In the event that one should need or wish to overwrite and delete every single byte from a computer's hard disk, a disk wipe may be the best solution. The term disk wipe refers to the act of cleaning a computer's hard disk. The term also refers to a class of computer software product designed to accomplish this task more easily and efficiently. With some variants of disk wipe software, an otherwise multi-hour task may be completed in a matter of minutes. The process is not only easier than reformatting a hard drive; it is also considered by many to be more secure, as it ensures that all data, including individually licensed software and files that may contain passwords or other personal information, is overwritten.
It is important to remember that no hard disk is ever completely "cleaned". With the enough resources, money, and time, information that has been "wiped" from a drive may be recovered. The only certain way to ensure that the data on a hard drive cannot be retrieved is through the complete physical destruction of disk.
Unlike the task of reformatting a drive, which may still leave personal files such as financial and medical information or credit card numbers afterward, a disk wipe helps assure that no traceable or accessible files remain. For some individuals, a simple reformatting of a disk drive can be sufficient and secure enough. If a hard disk has been partitioned into separate drives, some users might wish to perform additional reformatting to help avoid any risk of data or files being left. A second or even third disk wipe can be especially important if a computer is being sold, donated, or thrown out, to reduce the likelihood that personal data might be accessible by future owners.
In addition to purchasing disk wipe software, there are also various shareware and freeware programs or applications for many operating systems that perform similar disk wipe functions. Some of these applications can be more time-consuming than others, but may be more effective after only one use. The reliability factor can vary from program to program, depending on how the program re-writes or formats the hard drive using binary code structures.
Although there is no way to entirely and irreversibly eliminate digital information from a hard disk, one government standard mandates that a hard disk must be overwritten a total of six times to help ensure a medium security level for cryptic documents and data stored within. This process, while perhaps much more involved and thorough than most disk wipe programs, may be useful in certain situations. As the concern for computer hacking becomes more widespread, similar practices have become enforced by various government agencies, certain businesses, and even by some individuals.