How to erase a USB stick permanently: Did you know that simply by formatting a USB stick using the default options of Windows or macOS anyone, using the right tools, could be able to recover deleted files ? I’m serious: when you format a drive using the standard Windows or macOS function, it is only apparently freed from data. In reality the old data remain in place and the memory sectors that host them marked as “free”. This means that, pending the writing of new information, the files that were present on the disk (or, in this case, on the stick) before formatting are easily recoverable with any data recovery software. A nice risk to your privacy, isn’t it? Then run for cover.
If you want to keep your data safe and you want to prevent someone from recovering it after you have formatted your key, you need to take a few more minutes and delete the drive safely. Deleting a drive safely means formatting it and then rewriting all its sectors with random data, in the specific case a series of “0” or other numbers, which make it impossible to recover the files that were originally on it.
How do you say? Is this an operation by expert technicians? Nothing at all! Deleting a USB stick permanently is a very simple operation and you can do it with both Windows and macOS: all you need is a pinch of free time (since rewriting the drive with random data takes a few minutes ): if you don’t believe it, follow the instructions I’m about to give you and try it now. You will be amazed at the ease with which you will be able to complete the procedure!
Delete a USB stick permanently on Windows
If you want to find out how to delete a USB stick permanently and use a PC equipped with Windows , you need to know that there are several solutions you can rely on: some are included “as standard” in the operating system installed on your PC, others can be found for free on the Net. You just have to choose the one that best suits your needs and use it following the instructions below.
If you want to format a stick safely but don’t want to install new programs on your computer, you can use the formatting utility included in Windows, which must be used via the command line, therefore without counting on the intermediation of a graphical interface.
If you feel like accepting this “challenge” ( I call it that, but in reality it is a very simple operation! ), Insert the key to format in the PC, open the File Explorer (the yellow folder icon that you located at the bottom left on the taskbar) and select the This PC / Computer icon from the left sidebar. Now pin the drive letter of the stick : you will need it shortly to give the formatting command of the stick (and if you miss the letter, you risk formatting another drive instead of the USB stick!).
You are now ready to take action. Then click on the Start button (the flag icon located in the lower left corner of the screen), type the cmd command in the bar that appears and enter to open the Command Prompt . In the window that opens, give the following command.
Format f: /P:2, where instead of f: you must enter the drive letter of the key to be formatted and instead of 2 the number of writes you want to be made on the drive. After giving the command, press Enter twice in succession.
If you use Windows 8.x or later, after the first writing of “0”, the sectors of the stick will be overwritten with different random numbers at each step. If you use a version of Windows prior to 8.x, however, all writes will be made with “0” (a slightly less secure technique than the first, but still very valid and suitable for what your purposes are).
As can be easily guessed, a greater number of writes equals a greater security in the erasure of the data but also a longer duration of the formatting.
Note: if during formatting you also want to change the file system of the stick, add the variable / fs: [file system] at the end of the command, for example / fs: fat32 to format the drive in FAT32 or / fs: ntfs to format it in NTFS.
If using the Command Prompt seems a little too complicated for your computer skills, try relying on CCleaner .
As you may already know, CCleaner is one of the best free programs for the maintenance of Windows systems: it allows you to delete unnecessary files from the hard disk, to clean the registry and much more. Well, among its many functions, there is also the one to format the drives in a safe way: now I’ll explain how to use it.
First, download CCleaner on your PC by connecting to the official website of the program and clicking on the CCleaner.com link located at the bottom of the FREE column (there is also a paid Pro version of the software available, which however does not offer any useful functionality for your purposes). When the download is complete, open the CCleaner installation package ( ccsetupxx.exe ) and click on the Yes button .
Then select the Italian language from the drop-down menu located at the top right of the window that appears on the desktop, remove the check mark from the options to install additional software (eg Avast antivirus ) and complete the setup by first pressing the Install button and then on that Start CCleaner .
Now you can get down to business! Select the CCleaner Tools tab (on the left in the main program window), go to Reclamation drive and affix the check mark next to the name of the drive of the key to be formatted .
Then expand the Reclamation drop-down menu and set the Entire drive option in the latter (so as to reclaim the entire drive and not only the part with the deleted files). Then move to the Security drop-down menu and select the number of steps to be carried out for overwriting the memory sectors: you can choose between 1 step , 3 steps , 7 steps or 35 steps . I recommend an option between 3 steps and 7 steps , as the 1-pass one is a bit too bland and the 35-pass one it is excessive for what your purposes are.
Once you have made your choices, press the Reclamation button , type the term ERASE in the text field that appears in the center of the screen and click OK to start formatting the key. Also in this case, a greater number of steps equals a greater security in the erasure of the data, but also a greater wait for the completion of the procedure.
Note: CCleaner includes an automatic system monitoring function that warns the user when, according to the program, there is a need to start a PC cleaning. Personally I find it unnecessarily invasive, so I recommend you disable it by going to the Options tab of CCleaner, selecting the Monitoring item and removing the check mark from the Activate system monitoring and Activate monitoring options . Answer Yes to the warning that appears on the screen to confirm.
Delete a USB stick permanently on Mac
If you use a Mac and want to erase a USB stick safely, you can easily contact Disk Utility : the default macOS utility for managing disks and partitions.
Therefore, connect the USB stick you intend to format to your Mac, open the Launchpad (the rocket icon located on the Dock bar), select the Other folder from the latter and click on the Disk Utility icon . Alternatively, you can also call Disk Utility by looking for the program in Spotlight (the macOS search system that you can call by clicking on the magnifying glass icon at the top right or by pressing cmd + space on the keyboard).
At this point, select the USB stick drive from the sidebar of Disk Utility, press the Initialize button located at the top and, in the window that opens, type the name you want to assign to the drive and set the file system you want use to format it (via the Format drop-down menu ). Once this is done, click on the Security Options button and, using the scroll bar included in the window that appears on the screen, choose the number of writes to be performed on the memory sectors of the key.
- 1 step , for standard formatting (not recommended)
- 2 steps , to write a random data pass and then a single “0” pass on the entire disk. The ideal solution to erase the key safely without waiting too long.
- 3 steps , to write two random data passes and then a single pass of known data on the whole disk. The ideal solution to erase the key safely without waiting too long. Safer solution, but also a little slower, than the previous one.
- 7 steps , to initialize the information used to access files and overwrite data 7 times. It takes a long time but puts the data in an iron barrel (on the other hand it is an option compliant with the 5220-22 M standard of the United States Department of Defense for the safe initialization of magnetic media). Maybe an excessive measure for what your purposes are.
Once you have made your choice, click on the OK button , then on Initialize and wait patiently for the safe formatting of the key to end.
To view all the details of the operation, expand the Disk Utility panel by clicking on the Show details item , which is located at the bottom left.