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I have a stack of old floppy disks in my server room and before disposing or donating them, I want to make sure they are cleaned. Can anyone suggest some free utilities (Windows or Linux) for securely wiping data from a floppy disk?

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16 Answers 16

I use dban for mass wiping of disks, it supports all the major overwrite standards and has very good hardware support. However, modern research seems to indicate that a single zero pass wipe is sufficient for data destruction. In that case, you might as well just use a linux system and issue the following command:

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/fda

This will overwrite the floppy with all zeroes. Change the zero to urandom for a pass of random characters.

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To quote Scotty: Always use the proper tool, if the proper tool isn't available try a hammer! (So true for this one) –  Server Horror Jun 10 '09 at 6:47
    
Technically, this answers the question, but it's going to take forever to secure wipe a stack of floppy diskettes. –  rob Apr 1 '10 at 17:55
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Side note: The single-overwrite thing is mostly discussed in reference to HDs where the heads stay VERY tightly on the tracks. I'm not clear that it's relevant to floppies where head tracking is quite a lot looser. –  Michael Kohne Jun 12 at 14:00

Perhaps a bit more destructive then you are expecting, and completely worthless if you want to donate them. But I simply rip them open and then run the diskette through a cross-cut shredder. You can always follow that up by running shredded bits under bulk tape eraser.

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Helps to relieve stress too. –  Matt Hanson Jun 1 '09 at 1:11
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This will also be at least a hundred times faster than doing a secure wipe via software. –  rob Apr 1 '10 at 17:45

I usually use shred to wipe data. I think it's pretty reliable...

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If there is a lot of them, how about a good rubbing with a Neodymium magnet?

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Seriously, I have a pack of 6 of them that I got from a hobby shop for three bucks. Much faster than waiting for a floppy drive to do it. Plus, the magnets know nothing of tracks and sectors and should thus be more thorough, actually. –  Dennis Williamson Jun 1 '09 at 16:22

Who would you donate them to? I can't remember using a floppy in the last 8 years, seriously. How many do you have? If there isn't a ton of them, crush them with your hand for stress relief...

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Our community reuse center takes them. People use them for arts and crafts projects and stuff like that. I have seen some pretty cool and creative stuff done with old junk. –  user6844 Jun 1 '09 at 15:59
    
1. Retrogamers - duh. 2. Musicians - Music equipment has a longer lifespan than personal computers, and all synthesizers, drum machines and samplers from before 2004 use floppy disks and SCSI drives. Instruments such as the Korg Triton or the Kurzweil K2xxx are still a staple in working musicians' rigs and they run on floppies - although some have had their units modded with a SD-based floppy emulator 3. Industrial machines, like looms, as above: pre-2002 machines are still in widespread use and they use floppies. 4. Hipsters with a Sony Mavica :P –  Tobia Tesan Jun 12 at 13:09

You can give them to your wife:

Floppy disk on the fridge

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Eraser is a great free program that lets you wipe to a variety of different paranoia levels and standards. It also adds secure file deletion secure file move to the right-click menu in explorer... very handy if you do this stuff regularly.

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Don't wipe them in software. Huge waste of time, considering the rate of bad blocks you'll have. If you must, format them, it has better error handling characteristics. Beware that some of the advice given will result in disks that are not wiped past the first bad block.

Run a strong magnet over them. Beware that the metal in a 3.5" disk can injure you (or if it can't, your magnet isn't strong enough).

Then throw them away. Any cause that is worthy of giving a donation to is not going to be helped by a donation of garbage. If there is an organization that takes donations of garbage to be used in art projects, I guess it makes sense to give the disks to them. It just sounds unlikely.

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I laughed when I thought of someone running dban on a pile of floppy disks...I guess most people don't remember (or don't know) how slow floppy disks were, even without any bad blocks. –  rob Apr 1 '10 at 17:49

If you have installed the SpyBot Search and Destroy utility to secure your Internet Explorer, it comes bundled with a secure delete application.

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In CS class in high school we had a giant magnet you could turn on to wipe disks. Of course, we had to do that to a classmate's homework once...just to test it. I'm sure it would work for you.

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If you are running Windows 2000 or later, you can use cipher.exe (included with the OS) to securely overwrite deleted data on a drive.

Microsoft's KB article here: How To Use Cipher.exe to Overwrite Deleted Data in Windows

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If you have a Linux system then use dd, or in a Windows system I would go for for Eraser

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Try wipe , can get it from Knoppix or Ubuntu or most major linux distros. I would recommend running it on the disk rather than a partition if you can for added paranoia.

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Big Fire - seriously, it's probably not much less environmentally damaging that just throwing them in the garbage and it will 100%, absolutely, positively kill all data in one handy way.

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and will be fun. –  pipTheGeek Jun 1 '09 at 8:26
    
Fire is the only guaranteed method. It is also the only method without a financial loss since none of the others is worth it considering the current usefulness of floppies ... and it will be fun. –  Allen Jun 15 '10 at 22:55
    
you can blast off and nuke it from space...it's the only way to be sure... –  Chopper3 Jun 16 '10 at 7:15

dban is very good. It can also wipe disks to a US Department of Defense standard. That should be fairly secure. :)

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You can simply overwrite its content with random data multiple times with this simple bash script:

for i in $(seq 1 10); do echo pass $i; dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/fd0; sync; done

It goes through the disk and overwrites every sector with random data 10 times.

After that, you need to reformat the disk (probably for fat12).

If you are rescuing data from a such floppy, or try to re-use a floppy with bad blocks, ddrescue is better as this simple script. It is in the package gddrescue on most linux distros.

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In case of read or write errors, use dd_rescue instead, it will retry with smaller chunks and won't exit after every error, like dd does. –  sebix Jun 14 at 7:50
    
@sebix I included this in the answer. –  peterh Jun 14 at 7:56