The Short Answer
No, you cannot reliably erase a solid state drive (SSD) using a magnet. SSDs store data using flash memory chips rather than magnetic platters like traditional hard disk drives. Magnets have no effect on flash memory. To securely erase an SSD, you need to use disk wiping software or the SSD’s built-in secure erase function.
How Solid State Drives Store Data
Unlike traditional hard disk drives that store data on magnetic platters, SSDs use flash memory chips to store data. Flash memory is a type of electronically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM). It can be electrically erased and reprogrammed.
Each flash memory cell is made up of floating-gate transistors. These transistors have two gates, a control gate and a floating gate. The floating gate is electrically isolated, allowing it to hold an electrical charge. By controlling the amount of charge on the floating gate, the cell can be programmed to store one bit of data – a 0 or 1.
Applying an electric field to the cell removes the charge from the floating gate, effectively erasing the cell back to an unprogrammed state. This is how flash memory allows data to be written, read, erased, and rewritten electrically.
Why Magnets Don’t Affect Flash Memory
Since flash memory relies on an electrical charge to store data, it is immune to any external magnetic force. Magnets manipulate magnetic polarity and have no impact on electrical charges.
So trying to degauss or erase an SSD using a magnet will have absolutely no effect on the data stored in the flash memory cells. The SSD will be completely unaffected.
Securely Erasing an SSD
If you can’t use a magnet, what are the options for securely erasing an SSD? There are a couple recommended methods:
Using Disk Wiping Software
Specialized disk wiping utilities are designed to overwrite an entire drive with meaningless data. This overwriting is done multiple times to ensure the original data can’t be recovered.
Some popular disk wiping tools include:
– DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke)
– Active@ KillDisk
To use these tools on an SSD:
1. Download and install the wiping software on another computer
2. Connect the SSD you want to wipe
3. Boot from the disk wiping tool, usually via CD/DVD or USB
4. Select the SSD drive and wiping method (1-pass, 3-pass, 7-pass etc)
5. Start the wiping process, which could take several hours depending on drive size
The software will continually write junk data patterns over every sector of the SSD multiple times. This ensures all user data is permanently erased.
Using the SSD’s Built-In Secure Erase
Many SSDs have a built-in secure erase function accessible from the drive’s firmware interface. This performs a cryptographic erase on the entire SSD, including housekeeping data.
To use the secure erase function:
1. Backup any data you need from the SSD
2. Boot into the SSD’s firmware interface, usually by a keyboard shortcut on startup
3. Find the secure erase option and initiate it
4. The SSD controller will then erase all flash memory completely
5. The process generally takes several minutes to complete
After a successful secure erase, no software can recover any previous data from the SSD. This method is approved by NIST for permanently sanitizing SSDs. The only downside is it requires setting a firmware password on some drives.
Other Ineffective Erasing Methods
Before explaining why magnets don’t work, it’s helpful to understand why other improper erasing methods are also ineffective for SSDs:
Deleting Files or Formatting the SSD
When you delete files or format an SSD, it only removes the file system indexing that points to the data. The underlying data remains intact in the flash memory until overwritten by new data.
Data recovery software can scan the drive and restore deleted files and partitions easily. So this method does nothing to securely erase an SSD.
Using Standard Hard Drive Wiping Tools
Many older drive wiping tools are designed for traditional magnetic hard disk drives. They rely on overwriting data with magnetic field patterns designed to scramble and erase magnetic platters.
Since SSDs have no magnetic components, these magnetic wiping patterns have no impact on the stored data. Most standard wipe tools like logical overwrites or zero fills are useless on flash memory.
Exposing the SSD to a Strong Magnetic Field
As already covered, magnets have no electrical impact on the charged cells within flash memory. A magnet simply cannot erase or disrupt data stored in an SSD.
Extremely powerful laboratory magnets can damage SSD hardware and circuitry. But they still can’t affect the charge state of the flash cells retaining data.
Recovering Data from a Deleted SSD
If you mistakenly deleted important files from an SSD or improperly erased it, all hope isn’t lost. Here are some last ditch options for data recovery:
Data Recovery Software
As long as the deleted files haven’t been overwritten by new data, data recovery software may be able to restore them. Recovery tools scan the raw flash memory looking for file signatures.
Popular SSD recovery software includes:
– Disk Drill
– ReclaiMe File Recovery
– EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard
These tools can recover deleted files and partitions, even if you’ve formatted the SSD. As long as the flash cells retain the old data, it can often be restored.
Data Recovery Service
For more serious SSD data loss, like a failed drive, professional recovery may be necessary. Specialized data recovery services can dismantle the SSD and read raw data from the flash memory chips.
This microsoldering process lets them reconstruct lost or deleted data at the silicon level. It’s an expensive option, but can recover data that is otherwise irretrievable.
Some reputable data recovery services include:
– Secure Data Recovery Services (SDRS)
– Ace Data Recovery
As a last resort, these labs can sometimes recover data from an SSD that has been incorrectly or incompletely erased.
Best Practices for Erasing SSDs
To properly sanitize an SSD and prevent any chance of data recovery:
– Use disk wiping software designed for SSDs, with multiple overwrite passes
– Utilize the SSD controller’s built-in secure erase function
– Physically destroy the SSD if it contains highly sensitive information
– Encrypt the drive contents before erasing for added security
Avoid any magnetic or electrical tampering that risks damaging the drive. Degaussing magnets, standard file deletion, and format tools are ineffective.
Stick to proven SSD sanitization methods to permanently delete all data beyond recovery.
Magnets have no impact on securely erasing solid state drives. SSDs use flash memory that stores data electronically in cells with an electrical charge. Since magnets only affect magnetic polarity, they cannot erase or disrupt data stored on flash cells.
To properly sanitize an SSD, you need to use disk wiping software designed specifically for flash memory drives or use the built-in secure erase command. This overwrites all data on the drive irreversibly. Trying to degauss an SSD with a magnet will not reliably erase any sensitive data stored on the drive.