Is Erasing a WD External Drive (Without Unlocking It With Its Firmware Password) Secure?

Henry Krinkle

I have a password-protected Western Digital external drive I'd like to securely erase, and I'd like to avoid the long wait that a 3 or 7 pass overwrite takes using Apple's Disk Utility.

Of course, all WD Drives have the option to secure them with a firmware password using their WD Security or WD Discover app. And according to WD, if you forget your drive's password, the data is unrecoverable.

The question is: If I erase my WD drive—without unlocking it first (with its WD Security password)—would it achieve similar results to doing a secure erase of the drive in Apple’s Disk Utility (with its options for overwriting the drive with 1, 3, or 7 passes)?

To be clear: I realize erasing my WD drive–without unlocking it first (with its WD Security password) will not overwrite the drive with 1, 3 or 7 passes.

My question is will it achieve similar results, meaning will it make the data on the drive unrecoverable?

In the past, I've encrypted SSD drives with Apple’s FileVault; and then erased the drives later while they're still encrypted (meaning I didn't enter the password and decrypt it first) which leaves the data scrambled on the drive with no key to decrypt it.

So...Wouldn’t erasing my password-protected WD drive—without unlocking it first (with its WD Security password)—achieve similar results as above because I did not decrypt it first before erasing it?

And, if so, do you suppose it be similar to a 1, 3, or 7 pass secure erase using Disk Utility?

Note: For your reference, here are the steps I'm following, using WD's Drive Utilities app:

1. Plug in the password-protected drive, and when the WD Drive Unlock pop-up appears, input 5 incorrect passwords.

2. You'll then get a message of 5 Incorrect Attempts as well as the following: "If you cannot remember you password, you can erase your drive with WD Drive Utilities".

(Note: In earlier versions of WD Drive Unlock, there was a button you could click to erase the drive, but now you have to use WD Drive Utilities to do it.)

3. Open WD Drive Utilities and select the drive. You'll then see the notice again that you input 5 incorrect passwords, as well as an option to Erase Device (in blue text) to click.

4. Clicking on the Erase Device text link will then bring up the opportunity to format the drive (in JFHS*, ExFAT, or APFS). There is also a checkbox to tick that you understand this will permanently erase the drive and an Erase Device button below that.

4. After clicking the Erase Device button, the window will close in WD Drive Utilities and a message will pop up in your Finder: "The disk you inserted was not readable by this computer." Click the "Initialize" button.

5. After a short moment, the newly initialized disk will show up on your desktop.