The Great Zero Challenge Remains Unaccepted

Sat, 6th September 2008, 20:13

Note: This was originally a challenge put on by -- not


Q. What is this?

A. A challenge to confirm whether or not a professional data recovery firm or any individual(s) or organization(s) can recover data from a hard drive that has been overwritten with zeros once. We used the 32 year-old Unix dd command using /dev/zero as input to overwrite the drive. Three data recover companies were contacted. All three are listed on this page. Two companies declined to review the drive immediately upon hearing the phrase 'dd', the third declined to review the drive after we spoke to second level phone support and they asked if the dd command had actually completed (good question). Here is their response... paraphrased from a phone conversation:

"According to our Unix team, there is less than a zero percent chance of data recovery after that dd command. The drive itself has been overwritten in a very fundamental manner. However, if for legal reasons you need to demonstrate that an effort is being made to recover some or all of the data, go ahead and send it in and we'll certainly make an effort, but again, from what you've told us, our engineers are certain that we cannot recover data from the drive. We'll email you a quote."

Q. Why are you doing this?

A. Because many people believe that in order to permanently delete data from a modern hard drive that multiple overwrites with random data, mechanical grinding, degaussing and incinerating must be used. They tell others this. Like chaos, it perpetuates itself until everyone believes it. Lots of good, usable hard drives are ruined in the process.
Q. What exactly is the challenge?

A. You or your company or your organization or your group of researchers can have a crack at the drive. You don't actually have to recover any data to win the challenge, just tell us the name of one (1) of the two (2) files or the name of the one (1) folder that existed in this screen shot before the dd command was executed.
Q. What kind of hard drive is it? How much did it cost? Is it new? Does it work? How did you format it? Why did you buy this drive?

A. Western Digital (WD800JB) 80GB hard drive. We paid roughly $60 USD for the drive. It is new. Yes, it works. We did a default initialization and NTFS format from within Windows XP. It was the smallest and least expensive hard drive we could purchase new. It's also a very plain, common drive. Data recovery firms should have a lot of experience dealing with this type of hard drive.
The Terms were updated on January 16th, 2008. The underlined portions have been added

Q. May I enter the challenge?

A. Sure... here are the terms of the challenge: Send a self-addressed, postage-paid box you pay shipping both ways with packaging material to the address listed below along with a sixty $60 USD deposit United States Postal Service Money Order only and we will mail the drive to you.

When you receive the drive, you have three (3) consecutive days beginning on the day of receipt to analyze the drive. You must return the drive to us immediately on the end of the third day. The drive must be returned in the same condition that you received it in. Photos will be taken before shipment. It will be demonstrably functional before shipment. So, don't break it. If you damage the drive, then your deposit will not be returned. The challenge will last exactly one (1) year and will end immediately should someone win.


You may not write any data to the drive or disassemble the drive. If the challenger is an established data recovery business located in the United States of America (We would need to see Articles of Incorporation, a current business license and one other form of business identification in order to determine that they are indeed a professional, for-profit, established data recovery business) or a National government law enforcement or intelligence agency (NSA, CIA, FBI), then we will allow these type of organizations to disassemble the drive and to keep the drive for thirty (30) consecutive days. Fair enough? If you object to these terms, then don't participate or suggest changes.

Challenges are accepted in the order in which they are received at this address:

16 Systems, LLC
P.O. Box 356
Blacksburg, VA 24063
Q. How do I win the challenge?

A. You must identify the name of one (1) of the two (2) files or the name of the one (1) folder that existed in this screen shot before the dd command was executed. You do not have to actually recover any data from the drive, but you can if you are able to. You also must publicly disclose in a reproducible manner the method(s) used to win the challenge. Here is the answer to the challenge. It's a TIF screen shot that shows the original contents of the root folder of the drive before the dd command was executed. It's PGP symmetrically encrypted using GnuPG. The key will be released at the end of the challenge or when someone wins. Should someone win, they get to keep the drive. They also will receive $40.00 USD and the title "King (or Queen) of Data Recovery".

Q. Is this a scam?

A. No. The challenge is real. The hard drive is real. We hope to demonstrate that recovering data from a zeroed hard drive is impossible. Legitimate data recovery firms know this. They will not take the challenge. Neither will a national government agency. Lastly, it is noble and just to dispel myths, falsehoods and untruths.


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