Erase Free Space on a Mac Hard Drive to Prevent File Recovery

The Mac OS X Disk Utility app provides an ability to erase free space on traditional hard drives, which overwrites vacant disk space on the drive to prevent any potential recovery of deleted files (that is, files that have been removed traditionally, rather than through secure methods).

This only works on traditional hard drives of the spinning platter variety, which is typical for MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, and iMac models, and is the case with most external hard drives used for backups. This option is not available for flash-memory based SSD models (like those bundled within the MacBook Air, Retina MacBook Pro) because those drives use the TRIM function to quickly remove and recover blocks instead, which has the side effect of automatically preventing file recovery fairly quickly – often within 10 minutes of emptying the Trash.

Erasing Free Space on Hard Drives in Mac OS X

  1. Launch Disk Utility, found within /Applications/Utilities/ or through Launchpad.

    Disk Utility App
  2. Connect the hard drive if it's an external disk, and then select the hard drive from the left side menu.
  3. Choose the "Erase" tab, then choose the "Erase Free Space" option.

    Erase Tab
  4. Select the desired level of erasure and choose "Erase Free Space" to begin the process of overwriting the free space on the hard drive.

    Erase Free Space Options
  5. The three Erase Free Space options are as follows:
    • Fastest – The quickest option, this does a single pass write of a bunch of zeros over the unused portion of the hard drive.
    • Secure (middle option) – A triple pass erasure, this writes zeros over the unused space three times.
    • Most Secure – The most secure option that also takes the longest, this writes data over the free space a total of 7 times.

Choose whichever option is most appropriate for your needs, but it's generally recommended to use the "secure" or "most secure" option if you intend on transferring ownership of a hard drive, or if you suspect a hard drive that once contained important data has the chance of being stolen or misused. Keep in mind that the latter two options take longer to complete, because they are performing the same overwrite task either 3 times or 7 times.

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Article ID: 58444
Fri 7/27/18 2:58 PM
Thu 2/14/19 5:19 PM