Ubuntu – How to securely erase a hard drive


I'm planning on selling a USB external hard drive that currently contains an old Ubuntu installation with stored passwords and banking information.

How can I securely erase the drive before selling it?

Best Answer

  • Securely erasing a storage device

    There's a command-line utility called shred, which overwrites data in a file or a whole device with random bits, making it nearly impossible to recover.

    First of all, you need to identify the name of the device.

    This might be something like /dev/sdb or /dev/hdb (but not like /dev/sdb1, that's a partition). You can use sudo fdisk -l to list all connected storage devices, and find your external hard drive there.

    N.B. Make sure it is the correct device, picking the wrong device will wipe it.

    Unmount all currently mounted partitions on that device, if any. Then run the following, replacing /dev/sdX with the name of your device:

    sudo shred -v /dev/sdX

    This will overwrite all the blocks on the device with random data three times, the -v flag is for verbose and will print the current progress.

    You can add the option -nN to only do this N times, to save time on large capacity devices. This might take a while, depending on the size of your external hard drive (I think it takes twenty minutes or so for my 4 GB flash drive).

    You can also set all bits to zero after the last iteration by adding the option -z, I prefer to do this.

    sudo shred -v -n1 -z /dev/sdX

    After this, you would have to repartition the device. The easiest way is to install GParted and use it:

    sudo apt-get install gparted
    gksu gparted

    Choose your device in the upper-right corner list. Then select Device -> Create partition table to create a partition table on the device.

    Then add a single partition that uses all of the unallocated space on the device, choosing fat32 as the file system. Apply the changes by click the Apply button (the green checkmark) in the toolbar.


    • Read the manpage for shred online or by typing man shred in the terminal.
    • Beware that some parts of your disk will not be erased - use the drive firmware "SECURE ERASE" command, such as via hdparm, to properly clean off a disk.
  • Related Question