Solid State Drives (SSDs) have become increasingly popular in recent years, displacing traditional magnetic varieties. These newer drives rely on flash memory to store data and have no moving parts. This makes them fast, reliable, and able to max out on capacity.

However, there’s a catch: cleaning SSD drives is often harder than magnetic disks, putting users at risk from identity theft and all sorts of other criminal activities. This blog will explain why you might want to securely clean your SSD drive, and how to do so.

Why would you need to format SSD drives?

The most important reason for formatting SSD drives is security. Many of us accumulate thousands of documents on our hard disks but are happy to discard or trade in old computers without making sure that those files are inaccessible.

That’s a big mistake. Obviously, it’s incredibly easy to browse through files (including your file history) on unsecured disks. But what few people seem to realize is how easy it is to restore deleted data as well.

However, it’s not enough to manually delete sensitive files from your disc. And it’s not even good enough to use standard formatting tools to erase the disk’s contents. Most conventional formatting techniques leave the door open for criminals to restore everything.

Instead, genuine security requires the use of specialist techniques to securely format SSD drives. But don’t worry. We’ll clearly explain how to go about doing so.

Things to know before trying to format SSD drives

Before we run through our preferred formatting process, it’s handy to explain why some methods are probably not the ideal way to go.

Firstly, you may have come across deletion apps like DBAN (Dan’s Boot and Nuke). This is often an effective way to erase and sterilize magnetic drives, but it is powerless to clean solid state drives – so don’t be fooled.

You might also have come across “degaussing” as a sterilization method. This is also great for erasing magnetic disks (as it uses magnets to scramble data). But it has no effect on SSD drives, which work completely differently.

Another common way to destroy SSD data is to use brute force to physically destroy the disc. By hammering nails through the drive in 4-5 locations, you can render it more or less inoperable. Sure, the most advanced data recovery professionals may be able to restore it, but the average criminal won’t bother.

However, this is clearly not ideal if you intend to sell the SSD drive or provide it to someone else for their personal use. And it’s not exactly environmentally friendly (although it can be a hell of a lot of fun).

For these reasons, we would recommend using alternative means to format SSD drives.

Using Secure Erase apps to securely clean SSD drives

While DBAN won’t work well, some apps are well-adapted to clean SSD drives. Secure Erase from Parted Magic is a good example.

This app uses the native “Secure Erase” commands which come bundled with SSD drives. These commands function like a nuclear option, totally cleansing the drive of all data.

And if you don’t believe us, check out the National Institute for Science and Technology’s “Guidelines for media sanitization.” The NIST clearly states that Secure Erase is one of their “acceptable methods for purging” drives, so there’s nothing to worry about. Security is guaranteed.

Here’s how to use the Secure Erase app from Parted Media to carry out a secure SSD clean:

  1. Create a USB flash drive with Secure Erase installed – naturally, the tools used to erase a hard disk can’t be found on the disk itself. So you’ll need to invest in a USB stick (preferably 1GB or larger). Alternatively, you can purchase the app on a bootable DVD/USB – which may be an easier option.
  2. Insert the disc or USB stick and reboot your computer. This should lead the system to boot into Secure Erase.
  3. In the Secure Erase menu, head to the “Erase Disk” option. You should arrive at a page with the title “Disk Erasing 101”
  4. Now, choose the bottom option, entitled “Internal: Secure Erase.”
  5. You should see a list of the SSD drives attached to the computer in question. If you have multiple discs installed and only want to format one, be very careful here. Make sure you choose only the disc you intend to format.
  6. When asked for a password, just write “NULL” and press “OK”.
  7. Click through the disclaimer and the Secure Erase operation will begin. When it’s done, a dialogue box will appear. Just press “Close” and the operation is complete. Your disc should be totally clean, and unrecoverable.

The result of the process is a totally wiped SSD drive. Anything that was once stored on the disk is now gone for good.

Can you use Secure Erase with MacOS?

The above process is tailored to Windows and Linux PCs, but Mac owners will probably be wondering how they can format SSD drives securely.

If you’ve tried to run a Secure Erase-style cleanse on a Mac SSD drive, you may have discovered that Apple doesn’t offer this capability. Apparently, Apple feels that securely erasing SSDs isn’t necessary, and can actually damage the drives. But it would have been nice to have to option.

Then again, there’s always a workaround, and here it is:

  1. Reboot your system and press the “Option” key to load up into the system tools menu.
  2. On this menu, choose the Recovery partition on your computer.
  3. Now, open up a terminal window from the Recovery menu.
  4. In the terminal window type “diskutil secureErase freespace 2 /Volumes/DRIVE”. This instructs the Mac to run a 7-pass Secure Erase of your SSD drive.

The same results can be achieved by using the Disk Utility app, which is also present in the Recovery menu. The process is explained here by Apple’s tech staff, but you can just use the Terminal command above to speed things up.

Do you need to format SSD drives? Think about the options

If you’re thinking about selling your computer with its SSD drive as part of the bundle, it makes perfect sense to securely wipe your SSD drive. The same goes for businesses who change systems or migrate content to cloud storage systems. And it’s also sensible to carry out secure sterilization if you’re consigning your computer to the recycling center.

In those cases, you simply don’t know what future owners of the computer will do with the disk. But if you are keeping the disk, it might be worth thinking twice. SSD wipes can lead to progressive damage, while less extensive cleans can provide adequate security for most people.

Moreover, with VPNs, virus checkers, and encryption available, you don’t always need to focus on disk security. But in some cases, you definitely do.