The Gutmann method is an algorithm for securely erasing the contents of your hard drives, digital device etc. It was developed by Peter Gutmann in 1996 and is one of several software-based data sanitization methods used in some file shredder and data destruction programs to overwrite existing information on a hard drive or another storage device.

The selection of patterns assumes that the user does not know the encoding mechanism used by the drive, so it includes patterns designed specifically for three types of drives. A user who knows which type of encoding the drive uses can choose only those patterns intended for their drive. A drive with a different encoding mechanism would need different patterns.

The Gutmann method uses a random character, instead of just the zero used in other techniques, for the first 4 and the last 4 passes, but then uses a complex pattern of overwriting from Pass 5 through Pass 31. It writes a total of 35 passes.

There is a lengthy explanation of the original Gutmann method, which includes a table of the patterns used in each pass.

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Most of the patterns in the Gutmann method were designed for older MFM/RLL encoded disks. Gutmann himself has noted that more modern drives no longer use these older encoding techniques, making parts of the method irrelevant. He said “In the time since this paper was published, some people have treated the 35-pass overwrite technique described in it more as a kind of voodoo incantation to banish evil spirits than the result of a technical analysis of drive encoding techniques”.

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