Provided by: wipe_0.21-9_i386
wipe - securely erase files from magnetic media
wipe [options] path1 path2 ... pathn
This manual page describes version 0.21 of wipe , released September
Recovery of supposedly erased data from magnetic media is easier than
what many people would like to believe. A technique called Magnetic
Force Microscopy (MFM) allows any moderately funded opponent to recover
the last two or three layers of data written to disk; wipe repeatedly
overwrites special patterns to the files to be destroyed, using the
fsync() call and/or the O_SYNC bit to force disk access. In normal
mode, 34 patterns are used (of which 8 are random). These patterns were
recommended in an article from Peter Gutmann
(email@example.com) entitled "Secure Deletion of Data from
Magnetic and Solid-State Memory". A quick mode allows you to use only 4
passes with random patterns, which is of course much less secure.
NOTE ABOUT JOURNALING FILESYSTEMS AND SOME RECOMMENDATIONS (JUNE 2004)
Journaling filesystems (such as Ext3 or ReiserFS) are now being used by
default by most Linux distributions. No secure deletion program that
does filesystem-level calls can sanitize files on such filesystems,
because sensitive data and metadata can be written to the journal,
which cannot be readily accessed. Per-file secure deletion is better
implemented in the operating system.
Encrypting a whole partition with cryptoloop, for example, does not
help very much either, since there is a single key for all the
Therefore wipe is best used to sanitize a harddisk before giving it to
untrusted parties (i.e. sending your laptop for repair, or selling your
disk). Wiping size issues have been hopefully fixed (I apologize for
the long delay).
Be aware that harddisks are quite intelligent beasts those days. They
transparently remap defective blocks. This means that the disk can
keep an albeit corrupted (maybe slightly) but inaccessible and
unerasable copy of some of your data. Modern disks are said to have
about 100% transparent remapping capacity. You can have a look at
recent discussions on Slashdot.
I hereby speculate that harddisks can use the spare remapping area to
secretly make copies of your data. Rising totalitarianism makes this
almost a certitude. It is quite straightforward to implement some
simple filtering schemes that would copy potentially interesting data.
Better, a harddisk can probably detect that a given file is being
wiped, and silently make a copy of it, while wiping the original as
Recovering such data is probably easily done with secret IDE/SCSI
commands. My guess is that there are agreements between harddisk
manufacturers and government agencies. Well-funded mafia hackers
should then be able to find those secret commands too.
Don’t trust your harddisk. Encrypt all your data.
Of course this shifts the trust to the computing system, the CPU, and
so on. I guess there are also "traps" in the CPU and, in fact, in
every sufficiently advanced mass-marketed chip. Wealthy nations can
find those. Therefore these are mainly used for criminal investigation
and "control of public dissent".
People should better think of their computing devices as facilities
lended by the DHS.
IMPORTANT WARNING -- READ CAREFULLY
The author, the maintainers or the contributors of this package can NOT
be held responsible in any way if wipe destroys something you didn’t
want it to destroy. Let’s make this very clear. I want you to assume
that this is a nasty program that will wipe out parts of your files
that you didn’t want it to wipe. So whatever happens after you launch
wipe is your entire responsiblity. In particular, no one guarantees
that wipe will conform to the specifications given in this manual page.
Similarly, we cannot guarantee that wipe will actually erase data, or
that wiped data is not recoverable by advanced means. So if nasties
get your secrets because you sold a wiped harddisk to someone you don’t
know, well, too bad for you.
The best way to sanitize a storage medium is to subject it to
temperatures exceeding 1500K. As a cheap alternative, you might use
wipe at your own risk. Be aware that it is very difficult to assess
whether running wipe on a given file will actually wipe it -- it
depends on an awful lot of factors, such as : the type of file system
the file resides on (in particular, whether the file system is a
journaling one or not), the type of storage medium used, and the least
significant bit of the phase of the moon.
Wiping over NFS or over a journalling filesystem (ReiserFS etc.) will
most probably not work.
Therefore I strongly recommend to call wipe directly on the
corresponding block device with the appropriate options. However THIS
IS AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS THING TO DO. Be sure to be sober. Give the
right options. In particular : don’t wipe a whole harddisk (eg. wipe
-kD /dev/hda is bad) since this will destroy your master boot record.
Bad idea. Prefer wiping partitions (eg. wipe -kD /dev/hda2) is good,
provided, of course, that you have backed up all necessary data.
-f (force; disable confirmation query)
By default wipe will ask for confirmation, indicating the number
of regular and special files and directories specified on the
command line. You must type "yes" for confirmation, "no" for
rejection. You can disable the confirmation query with the -f
-r (recurse into subdirectories)
Will allow the removal of the entire directory tree. Symbolic
links are not followed.
-c (chmod if necessary)
If a file or directory to be wiped has no write permissions set,
will do a chmod to set the permission.
-i (informational, verbose mode)
This enables reporting to stdout. By default all data is written
-s (silent mode)
All messages, except the confirmation prompt and error messages,
-q (quick wipe)
If this option is used, wipe will only make (by default) 4 passes
on each file, writing random data. See option -Q
Sets the number of passes for quick wiping. Default is 4.
-a (abort on error)
The program will exit with EXIT_FAILURE if a non-fatal error is
-R (set random device OR random seed command)
With this option which requires an argument you can specify an
alternate /dev/random device, or a command who’s standard output
will be hashed using MD5-hashed. The distinction can be made using
the -S option.
-S (random seed method)
This option takes a single-character argument, which specifies how
the random device/random seed argument is to be used. The default
random device is /dev/random. It can be set using the -R option.
The possible single-character arguments are:
r If you want the argument to be treated like a regular
file/character device. This will work with /dev/random, and might
also work with FIFOs and the like.
c If you want the argument to be executed as a command. The output
from the command will be hashed using MD5 to provide the required
seed. See the WIPE_SEEDPIPE environment variable for more info.
p If you want wipe to get its seed by hashing environment variables,
the current date and time, its process id. etc. (the random device
argument will not be used). This is of course the least secure
-M (select pseudo-random number generator algorythm)
During the random passes, wipe overwrites the target files with a
stream of binary data, created by the following choice of algorythms:
l will use (depending on your system) your libc’s random() or rand()
pseudorandom generator. Note that on most systems, rand() is a
linear congruential generator, which is awfully weak. The choice
is made at compile-time with the HAVE_RANDOM define (see the
a will use the Arcfour stream cipher as a PRNG. Arcfour happens to
be compatible with the well-known RC4 cipher. This means that
under the same key, Arcfour generates exactly the same stream as
r will use the fresh RC6 algorythm as a PRNG; RC6 is keyed with the
128-bit seed, and then a null block is repeatedly encrypted to get
the pseudo-random stream. I guess this sould be quite secure. Of
course RC6 with 20 rounds is slower than random(); the compile-
time option WEAK_RC6 allows you to use a 4-round version of RC6,
which is faster. In order to be able to use RC6, wipe must be
compiled with ENABLE_RC6 defined; see the Makefile for warnings
about patent issues.
In all cases the PRNG is seeded with the data gathered from the
random device (see -R and -S options).
As there can be some problems in determining the actual size of a
block device (as some devices do not even have fixed sizes, such
as floppy disks or tapes), you might need to specify the size of
the device by hand; <length> is the device capacity expressed as a
number of bytes. You can use K (Kilo) to specify multiplication by
1024, M (Mega) to specify multiplication by 1048576, G (Giga) to
specify multiplication by 1073741824 and b (block) to specify
multiplication by 512. Thus
1024 = 2b = 1K 20K33 = 20480+33 = 20513
114M32K = 114*1024*1024+32*1024.
This allows you to specify an offset inside the file or device to
be wiped. The syntax of <offset> is the same as for the -l option.
-e Use exact file size: do not round up file size to wipe possible
remaining junk on the last block.
-Z Don’t try to wipe file sizes by repeatedly halving the file size.
Note that this is only attempted on regular files so there is no
use if you use wipe for cleaning a block or special device.
-F Don’t try to wipe file names. Normally, wipe tries to cover file
names by renaming them; this does NOT guarantee that the physical
location holding the old file name gets overwritten. Furthermore,
after renaming a file, the only way to make sure that the name
change is physically carried out is to call sync (), which flushes
out ALL the disk caches of the system, whereas for ading and
writing one can use the O_SYNC bit to get synchronous I/O for one
file. As sync () is very slow, calling sync () after every rename
() makes filename wiping extremely slow.
-k Keep files: do not unlink the files after they have been
overwritten. Useful if you want to wipe a device, while keeping
the device special file. This implies -F.
-D Dereference symlinks: by default, wipe will never follow symlinks.
If you specify -D however, wipe will consent to, well, wipe the
targets of any symlinks you might happen to name on the command
line. You can’t specify both -D and -r (recursive) options, first
because of possible cycles in the symlink-enhanced directory
graph, I’d have to keep track of visited files to guarantee
termination, which, you’ll easily admit, is a pain in C, and,
second, for fear of having a (surprise!!) block device buried
-v Show version information and quit.
-h Display help.
wipe -rcf /home/berke/plaintext/
Wipe every file and every directory (option -r) listed under
/home/berke/plaintext/, including /home/berke/plaintext/.
Regular files will be wiped with 34 passes and their sizes will
then be halved a random number of times. Special files (character
and block devices, FIFOs...) will not. All directory entries
(files, special files and directories) will be renamed 10 times
and then unlinked. Things with inappropriate permissions will be
chmod()’ed (option -c). All of this will happen without user
confirmation (option -f).
wipe -kq /dev/hda3
Assuming /dev/hda3 is the block device corresponding to the third
partition of the master drive on the primary IDE interface, it
will be wiped in quick mode (option -q) i.e. with four random
passes. The inode won’t be renamed or unlinked (option -k).
Before starting, it will ask you to type ‘‘yes’’.
wipe -kqD /dev/floppy
Since wipe never follows symlinks unless explicitly told to do so,
if you want to wipe /dev/floppy which happens to be a symlink to
/dev/fd0u1440 you will have to specify the -D option. Before
starting, it will ask you to type ‘‘yes’’.
wipe -rfi >wipe.log /var/log/*
Here, wipe will recursively (option -r) destroy everything under
/var/log, excepting /var/log. It will not attempt to chmod()
things. It will however be verbose (option -i). It won’t ask you
to type ‘‘yes’’ because of the -f option.
wipe -Kq -l 1440k /dev/fd0
Due to various idiosyncracies of the operating system, it’s not
always easy to obtain the number of bytes a given device might
contain (in fact, that quantity can be variable). This is why you
sometimes need to tell wipe the amount of bytes to destroy. That’s
what the -l option is for. Plus, you can use b,K,M and G as
multipliers, respectively for 2^9 (512), 2^10 (1024 or a Kilo),
2^20 (a Mega) and 2^30 (a Giga) bytes. You can even combine more
than one multiplier !! So that 1M416K = 1474560 bytes.
Wipe should work on harddisks and floppy disks; however the internal
cache of some harddisks might prevent the necessary writes to be done
to the magnetic surface. It would be funny to use it over NFS. Under
CFS (Cryptographic File System) the fsync() call has no effect; wipe
has not much use under it anyway - use wipe directly on the
corresponding encrypted files. Also, under Linux, when using a device
mounted thru a loopback device, synchronous I/O does not get propagated
For wiping floppy disks, at least under Linux, there is no way, besides
obscure floppy-driver specific ioctl’s to determine the block size of
the disk. In particular, the BLKGETSIZE ioctl is not implemented in the
floppy driver. So, for wiping floppies, you must specify the size of
the floppy disk using the -l option, as in the last example. This
option is normally not needed for other fixed block devices, like IDE
and SCSI devices.
File name wiping is implemented since version 0.12. I don’t know how
efficient it is. It first changes the name of the file to a random-
generated name of same length, calls sync (), then changes the name to
a random-generated name of maximal length.
File size wiping is implemented by repeatedly truncating the file to
half of its size, until it becomes empty; sync () is called between
Note that it is still not possible to file creation date and permission
bits portably. A wipe utility working at the block device level could
be written using the ext2fs library.
AUTHOR AND LICENCE
Wipe was written by Berke Durak (to find my email address, just type
echo berke1ouvaton2org|tr 12 @. in a shell).
Wipe is released under the conditions of the GNU General Public
/dev/random is used by default to seed the pseudo-random number
WIPE_SEEDPIPE If set, wipe will execute the command specified in it
(using popen()), and will hash the command’s output with the MD5
message-digest algorythm to get a 128-bit seed for its PRNG. For
example, on systems lacking a /dev/random device, this variable might
be set in /etc/profile to a shell script which contains various
commands such as ls, ps, who, last, etc. and which are run
asynchronously in order to get an output as less predictable as
open(2), fsync(2), sync(8), bdflush(2), update(8), random(3)