Guide to the AFSSI-5020 Data Sanitization Method

Details on the AFSSI-5020 Data Wipe Method

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AFSSI-5020 is a software-based data sanitization method used in various file shredder and data destruction programs to overwrite existing information on a hard drive or another storage device.

Erasing a hard drive using the AFSSI-5020 data sanitization method will prevent all software based file recovery methods from lifting information from the drive and is also likely to prevent most hardware-based recovery methods from extracting information.

Keep reading to learn how this data wipe method actually works and which sanitization methods are similar to it. We also have a few examples of programs you can use to overwrite data on a storage device using AFSSI-5020.

What Does the AFSSI-5020 Wipe Method Do?

All data sanitization methods are similar in some ways but slightly different in others. For example, the VSITR sanitization method writes several passes of ones and zeros before finishing with a random character. Write Zero only writes one pass of zeros, while Random Data uses random characters.

The AFSSI-5020 data sanitization method is similar in that it uses zeros, ones, and random characters, but different in the order and number of passes. It's extremely similar to CSEC ITSG-06, NAVSO P-5239-26, and DoD 5220.22-M.

The AFSSI-5020 data wipe method is usually implemented in the following way:

  • Pass 1: Writes a zero
  • Pass 2: Writes a one
  • Pass 3: Writes a random character and verifies the write

You might also see iterations of the AFSSI-5020 data sanitization method that write a one for the first pass and a zero for the second. This method has also been seen implemented with verifications after each pass, not just the last one.

Some applications that support AFSSI-5020 may let you modify the passes to make your own custom data wipe method. For example, you might be able to replace the first pass with random characters and end it with a verification.

However, remember that specific changes made to this sanitization method may result in a method that's technically no longer AFSSI-5020. For example, if you made the first three passes random characters instead of ones or zeros, and then added several more passes, you could build the Gutmann method. Similarly, deleting the last two passes would leave you with Write Zero.

Programs That Support AFSSI-5020

Eraser, Hard Disk Scrubber, and PrivaZer are a few free programs that let you use the AFSSI-5020 data sanitization method. Eraser and PrivaZer can overwrite data on a whole storage device at once using this sanitization method while Hard Disk Scrubber is only useful for securely deleting select files and folders, not entire hard drives.

These programs, and most others that support this data wipe method, also support multiple other data sanitization methods in addition to AFSSI-5020. This is helpful because it means you can use a different sanitization method later if you want, or even use multiple methods on the same data, without having to switch to a different application.

If you're using a program that doesn't seem to support AFSSI-5020 but will let you customize the passes, it's possible you could just create this data sanitization method yourself by replicating the passes as described above. CBL Data Shredder is one example of a program that lets you run custom passes.

More About AFSSI-5020

The AFSSI-5020 sanitization method was originally defined in the Air Force System Security Instruction 5020 by the United States Air Force (USAF).

It's unclear if the USAF still uses this data sanitization as its standard.

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