A Comprehensive Guide to Secure Data Removal and Malware Disinfection


In today’s digital age, our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop PCs store a vast amount of work, personal, and financial data. Ensuring the complete removal of this data is crucial when devices are lost, stolen, hacked, or simply repurposed for others. However, mere file deletion may not suffice, as data can still be recovered due to the way storage works on devices. Similarly, dealing with malware infections requires more than running antivirus scans or deleting infected apps. This article explores secure data erasure methods and malware removal options to protect your information effectively.

Why Use Secure Erase? Securely erasing your device is essential when:

  1. Selling or giving it to others
  2. Suspecting loss, theft, or remote erasure
  3. Disinfecting it from viruses or malware
  4. Returning it for repair or replacement
  5. Repurposing it for another user
  6. Preparing a recently acquired device for use

(Note: Although these methods prevent data recovery for most individuals, determined experts using specialized techniques may recover some data in specific circumstances. For complete data erasure, refer to our guidance on Secure Sanitization of Storage Media. Please note that some methods may render the device unusable.)

Preparation for Secure Erasure: Before you proceed with data erasure, consider the following steps:

  1. Back up your essential data to avoid permanent loss during erasure.
  2. Utilize built-in features like Restore, Factory Reset, or Erase all content and settings, depending on your device type. These features wipe all content, including messages, contacts, and photos.
  3. In case of any issues during the process, you might need to reinstall the device’s operating system, which requires advanced skills.

Remotely Erasing Lost Devices: For lost or stolen devices, remote erasure options might be available through cloud services or Mobile Device Management (MDM) provided by your organization.

Selling Used Devices: Disabling activation lock (iOS) or factory reset protection (Android) may be necessary before selling the device to enable the recipient to use it.

How to Securely Erase Devices:

  1. Back up all important data, passwords, and credentials.
  2. Choose from secure, remote, or advanced options based on device enrollment in MDM or cloud accounts.
  3. Securely erase devices through remote wipe commands, MDM, or physical access, as listed in the table below.
  4. Follow the recommended method for your device type.
Device TypeRecommended Secure WipeRecommended Secure Remote WipeAdvanced Options
AndroidErase all data (factory reset)Android remote erase or MDMRe-install Android using stock images available from some OEMs (e.g., Google, Sony)
Chrome OSReset to Factory SettingsMDMRecover your Chromebook
iOSErase all content and settingsFind my iPhone or MDMDFU mode restore (PDF)
macOSManually erase your hard disk, choosing the Secure erase optionFind my iPhone or MDM
WindowsReset your PC, choosing the Remove everything optionUse MDM if using MDM-managed WindowsUse Recovery drive or Installation media to reset your PC, choosing the Remove everything option; or clear your TPM

(Note: Erasure time varies but usually takes a few minutes; older devices might take longer.)

After Erasure: After securely erasing your device, you can set it up again or pass it on with the assurance that data recovery is highly unlikely.

Technical Notes: For Mac devices without the T2 security chip and encryption not enabled from the start, complete data removal cannot be guaranteed through secure erase. Refer to NCSC media sanitization guidance in such cases.

For More Information: For further guidance and information on these topics, consult:

  • Manufacturer’s guides for your device
  • NCSC Secure Sanitization of Storage Media
  • CPNI Secure Destruction Guidance


https://www.cpni.gov.uk/secure-destruction-0 https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/secure-sanitisation-storage-media https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/collection/device-security-guidance/getting-ready/mobile-device-management https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/secure-sanitisation-storage-media https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/collection/device-security-guidance/getting-ready/choosing-devices

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