Keep your friends close and your hard drives closer: Safely managing disks on your Mac

Keeping personal information truly confidential is something of a challenge in the modern world. Our every move is being recorded, with eyes watching from each corner. It may sound paranoid, but this is the new reality. With our smartphones, social media, and messaging apps, almost everyone is now an open book.

One of the safest ways to keep your information secure is to store it in on your Mac’s solid-state drive (SSD) without access to an internet connection — but that’s nearly impossible these days, right?  For most of us, it’s generally good enough just to be careful when browsing the web and avoid clicking any suspicious links.

But let’s take a look at the worst-case scenario: What if your information is stolen or taken away from you by an employer, roommate, or even the government? What if you decide to sell or donate your Mac? It ultimately doesn’t matter who got access to it — it’s imperative that you destroy personal data before the bad guys grab it.

So how can you make sure your sensitive data doesn’t fall into wrong hands along with your hard disks (HDD) or other media? Physically shredding old disks into tiny pieces is impractical, even if it may ultimately be the safest data method of destruction.

For years, OS X has allowed users to erase data from disks using native tools included with Apple’s Disk Utility. When you select a volume in Disk Utility and click the Erase tab, you can select Security Options and choose how many times the media will be written over. But this procedure is very time-consuming, and you can’t wipe free space on the disk with this method.

Unlike traditional hard drives, it’s no trivial matter to recover data stored on SSDs, due to the way the hardware optimizes storage to reduce wear and tear. But this is by no means foolproof, since there are readily available tools capable of easily reconstructing SSDs that have been erased.

One simple way to protect data is to encrypt it from the very beginning on a new SSD or HDD using FileVault 2. This is a full-disk encryption option that first appeared in OS X Lion 10.7, which keeps your startup volume encrypted at all times. Whenever you boot your Mac and log in to the account via FileVault 2, OS X encrypts everything written to the disk and decrypts everything that being read.

Erasing a FileVault-encrypted volume discards the decryption key, turning your disk into an unreadable mess. Without the key, the erased data is as good as gone. The only problem with this solution is that should you forget your account credentials or lose the recovery key, your data will be permanently lost.

So we are left with the only suitable option: Wiping the drive. When you wipe a HDD or SDD, you erase everything on the disk, including data you previously deleted that might still exist.

When you format a hard drive or delete a partition, you usually delete only the file system, making data invisible but not entirely erased. You need to take an extra step to clean the hard drive completely using specialized data wiping tools. This software works by writing over every divisible part of the drive, used or otherwise.

One of the best tools on the market for a logical-level wiping of your hard drive is Paragon Hard Disk Manager for Mac. It supports all Intel-based Macs, providing tools to quickly and efficiently sanitize hard disks to protect valuable information.

You can irreversibly destroy all data on your disk in compliance with the major national government and military data standards. For only $39.95, you receive a powerful tool to manage data on your hard disks, and keep valuable information completely under your total control.

Paragon Hard Disk Manager for Mac

  • System Integrity Protection in OS X 10.11
    El Capitan support;
  • Core Storage backup and restore;
  • Snapshot-driven backup;

Learn more about Paragon Hard Disk Manager for Mac

 

The Power Of Partitioning

10/9/09 By: Christian Perry

A segment of storage in almost every data center skirts by every day without doing much work. But through the use of partitioning, it’s possible to get that storage back to work and keep it there.

“Properly partitioned hard disks will allow the data center to maximize its storage investments by reallocating unused disk space and consolidating data, resulting in the need to purchase less new storage,” says Jim Thomas, technical services manager for Paragon Software Group (www.paragon-software.com). “Increased system performance can also be noticed through defragmentation of partition contents and the MFT [Master File Table].”
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Key Points

• Partitioning can help data centers deploy previously unused storage space for applications, testing, and other tasks by dividing hard drives into separate storage areas.

• Although the actual partitioning process is simple, experts recommend planning before conducting partitioning sessions to determine the best use for the technology and prepare for potential changes.

• Partitioning can force drive letter assignment changes, conflict with existing file system problems, and cause other issues, so data center personnel should expect the possibility of some problems with the technology.

Division Lesson

At its core, partitioning is the process of dividing hard drives into separate storage areas, or partitions, to make use of previously unused disk space. According to Curtis Breville, data storage evangelist for Crossroads Systems (www.crossroads.com), partitioning was originally designed to dedicate part of a disk drive to a specific purpose to allow the data to be physically close together and speed up access to data on a device that used random-access searching.

“Partitioning also allowed for better use of disk space and kept one application from taking away space needed by another. With astute planning and accurate growth prediction, each application would have the right amount of storage, and there would be less wasted disk [space],” Breville says.

Today’s flexible partitioning technologies continue to build on that performance-enhancing tradition, delivering automated and unattended operations, RAID support, dynamic disk support, Windows-based tools for on-the-fly partitioning, and even bootable recovery media to enable partitioning operations while systems are offline. Also relatively new is thin provisioning, which allows partitioning without the need to physically allocate storage at initial setup.

Partition Plan

Data center managers who neglect to implement partitioning for fear of disrupting delicate system environments might be pleased to learn that partitioning can occur while systems are online. However, before moving ahead with partitioning, experts recommend some basic planning procedures to ensure that the technology is working to its full potential.

“Typically, after the goals and business case for partitioning have been established, history performance data on existing servers and applications is collected to assist in the planning process as well as information on the importance of each application to the business,” explains Gary Thome, director of strategy and architecture for Infrastructure Software and Blades at HP (www.hp.com). “Architectures and partitioning software are chosen based on the goals of the project, along with plans for management, high availability and disaster recovery, and backup and security procedures.”

Thome also recommends determining the metrics the data center uses (or will use) to measure success. For example, is IT judged based on response time to end users? On percent of unplanned downtime? On costs of capital expenditures or of the power bill? Also, data centers planning to implement partitioning should gather utilization data from their existing servers, storage, and applications, Thome says.

The actual process of partitioning new or existing drives is surprisingly simple. “Most partitioning utilities show each hard drive in the system with graphic representation of the partition layout. After installing the partitioning software, an operation such as resizing partitions is usually as easy as dragging the border of a partition to the desired size or entering the desired size of the partition in numerical form, before allowing the application to carry out the partitioning operations behind the scenes,” Paragon’s Thomas says.

Rolling partitioning into production—that is, moving programs and data into a partitioned environment—can be accomplished with tools that automate the transfer of applications from physical servers to virtual servers, Thome says. From there, data centers can use ongoing monitoring and capacity planning to ensure the optimal distribution of workload and resources.

Tread Carefully

Although partitioning is generally a safe process, it’s not without pitfalls. For example, Thomas warns that when booting a server from recovery media, drive letter assignments might display differently than how they appeared in the host operating system. Further, he warns that file system errors and bad sectors can cause numerous problems, so it’s wise to check for physical errors and file system errors before creating or modifying partitions.

James Wilson, product manager for HP StorageWorks, says that another concern with storage cache partitioning is that the time required to move cache is variable and does not address short-term hot spots or sudden changes in workload. Further, the cache being moved is not available to any partition from the start of the move until the cache is reassigned to the new partition.

Despite these potential drawbacks, partitioning is here to stay in data center environments as an effective method for increasing operational efficiency. “Partitioning is like cutting a child’s birthday cake,” Thome says. “As long as you plan ahead and measure carefully, everybody is going to be happy.”