.TH WIPE 1 "Sun Nov 7 09:41:23 EST 2010" "Linux" "User Commands"
wipe \- securely erase files from magnetic media
wipe [options] path1 path2 ... pathn
This manual page describes version
, released November 2010.
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;
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) entitled "Secure
Deletion of Data from Magnetic and Solid-State Memory". The normal mode takes
35 passes (0-34). A quick mode allows you to use only 4 passes with random
patterns, which is of course much less secure.
.SH 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
Encrypting a whole partition with cryptoloop, for example, does not help
very much either, since there is a single key for all the partition.
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
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
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
People should better think of their computing devices as facilities
lended by the DHS.
.SH IMPORTANT WARNING -- READ CAREFULLY
The author, the maintainers or the contributors of this package
can NOT be held responsible in any way if
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
is your entire responsibility. In particular, no one guarantees that
will conform to the specifications given in this manual page.
Similarly, we cannot guarantee that
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
at your own risk. Be aware that it is very difficult to assess whether
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
directly on the corresponding block device with the appropriate options. However
.I 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.
.SH "COMMAND\-LINE OPTIONS"
.B -f (force; disable confirmation query)
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
.B -r (recurse into subdirectories)
Will allow the removal of the entire directory tree. Symbolic links are not
.B -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.
.B -i (informational, verbose mode)
This enables reporting to stdout. By default all data is written to stderr.
.B -s (silent mode)
All messages, except the confirmation prompt and error messages, are suppressed.
.B -q (quick wipe)
If this option is used,
will only make (by default) 4 passes on each file, writing
random data. See option
.B -Q <number-of-passes>
Sets the number of passes for quick wiping. Default is 4. This option requires -q.
.B -a (abort on error)
The program will exit with EXIT_FAILURE if a non-fatal error is encountered.
.B -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.
.B -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:
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.
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.
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 setting.
.B -M (select pseudo-random number generator algorythm)
During the random passes,
overwrites the target files with a stream of binary data,
created by the following choice of algorythms:
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 Makefile).
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 RC4...
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).
.B -l <length>
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
(Kilo) to specify multiplication by 1024,
(Mega) to specify multiplication by 1048576,
(Giga) to specify multiplication by 1073741824
(block) to specify multiplication by 512. Thus
1024 = 2b = 1K
20K33 = 20480+33 = 20513
114M32K = 114*1024*1024+32*1024.
.B -o <offset>
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
Use exact file size: do not round up file size to wipe possible remaining junk
on the last block.
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
for cleaning a block or special device.
.B -X <number>
Skip a given number of passes. This is useful to continue wiping from a given point
when you have been wiping, say, a large disk and had to interrupt the operation. Used
.B -x <pass1>,...,<pass35>
Specify the pass order. When
is interrupted, it will print the current randomly selected pass order permutation
and the pass number as appropriate -x and -X arguments.
Don't try to wipe file names. Normally,
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.
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
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 somewhere unexpected.
Show version information and quit.
.B 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
.B 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''.
.B wipe -kqD /dev/floppy
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''.
.B 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.
.B 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
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.
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
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
File size wiping is implemented by repeatedly truncating the file to half of
its size, until it becomes empty; sync () is called between such operations.
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.
.SH AUTHOR AND LICENCE
was written by Berke Durak (to find my email address,
.B echo berke1ouvaton2org|tr 12 @.
in a shell).
is released under the conditions of the GNU General
is used by default to seed the pseudo-random number generators.
.SH ENVIRONMENT VARIABLES
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 possible.
.SH SEE ALSO
open(2), fsync(2), sync(8), bdflush(2), update(8), random(3)