Securely Erasing Photos


Today’s Question: How do you format a flash drive so that all the hidden images are erased and the capacity of the original drive is restored? I’m on a Macintosh platform. Thank you.

Tim’s Quick Answer: When you want to make sure photos are removed from a storage device in a way that ensures they can’t be recovered by anyone else, you’ll want to use an option to format the drive in a secure way.

More Detail: First off, it is worth noting that by default when you delete photos (or other files) from a storage device on either Macintosh or Windows, those files are not actually deleted. Instead, they go to the “Recycle Bin” on Windows or the “Trash” on Macintosh. You need to empty the Recycle Bin or Trash to ensure the files are actually deleted.

Even then, the files aren’t truly deleted from the storage device, though the space the files were taking up is made available again. In other words, if you delete photos from a storage device but never over-write that storage device with new data, special software could be used to recover the data that you thought had been deleted.

There are, however, options for securely formatting a storage device so it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to ever recover any data from the device.

On the Macintosh platform you can use the Disk Utility application for this purpose. The Disk Utility application is found in the Utilities folder within the Applications folder. When you select the drive you want to securely erase, you can choose the Erase option at the top of the application window. After configuring the overall settings for erasing the drive, click the Security Options button, which will bring up a dialog where you can choose a setting between “Fastest” and “Most Secure”. The “Most Secure” setting will take more time, but will help ensure no data can be recovered from the drive.

On Windows you would need to use a third-party tool to securely erase a hard drive in this manner, but there are a variety of such tools available.