Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Da Shredder Do Good

Sorry. That's a joke that only a few of my older readers will catch. Many years ago when "easy-open" beer bottles were not at all easy to open, one bottling company produced an advertisement making fun of that fact. It starred a "professional" wrestler opening a beer. When, after a great deal of grunting and sounds of great efforts being made, it was opened, he stated, "The Crusher do good!"

That does have a connection to today's topic, deleting and/or erasing files from one's computer drive. There are various degrees of deletion and erasure. The least secure is simply deleting a file by sending it to the Windows Recycle Bin and clicking on "Empty Recycle Bin." This action only erases the address (a few bits) of the file on the drive such that the computer no longer recognizes it as being present. The body of it remains. It can easily be found by someone with a little knowledge of computers and a program to view what is on the entire drive.

At the extreme opposite end of the security spectrum would be having a bit of thermite or a huge degausser installed in the computer set to destroy the entire hard drive if certain conditions are met. This method would be for serious hackers, intelligence agencies, those with child porn on their machines, or any of you who really don't want your high school nickname known, and are willing to have a lump of smoldering plastic and metal on your desk to prevent it.

In many cases, simply deleting a file is enough. If you don't care that there are retrievable remains of all your blog posts, emails to Aunt Edna, or grocery lists, fine. More sensitive information deserves more care, at least encryption and more complete deletion when you are done with it. At one time in the past, simple deletion was enough because people who wanted your data were not so common and ways to get it were not so sophisticated. Unfortunately, that has not been true for several years, so it is largely up to you to protect it.

A recent article by Linda Martin-Peoples on MakeUseOf.com reviews or mentions in the comments section, various free file, folder, and disk deletion programs. FileShredder seems to be a very useful free program. Another program mentioned in the article is a trial of a commercial program, not true freeware, and is not listed here. Data Shredder is available free from CBL Data Recovery Technology, LLC, a Canadian data recovery company. I highly recommend that you read the article on this link to their site which explains, in understandable terms, what the different levels and types of data destruction involve. There are many free file shredders available at various sites around the web. I use Eraser, parts of Crap Cleaner (which is again available at the linked site without the other software recently bundled with it,) and "other methods." There are some programs I have not listed because they are completely destructive of all data on a disk, and I don't believe any of my readers would need such an ability. If you are going to donate a computer to charity or dispose of one, contact me and I will send you the names and URLs.

Other caveats apply to this type of application. Be certain that you trust the source of any freeware you download. Open source sites with GNU licenses (like sourceforge.com, etc.,) large companies giving away a freebie to get you to buy other of their commercial software, and corporations giving away updates, add-ons, templates, etc., to their own commercial software are most often safe. The other "It seems too good to be true" sites frequently prove that old maxim to be true. The second caveat, specifically about file deletion software, is to know what you are doing! If you do, go ahead. If you have any doubt, don't do it. Ask someone first. When the files are gone, they really are gone unless you are willing to take the chance that a data retrieval company, charging $600 to $1000, might be able to get it back.

This article is presented for general educational purposes only, and does not constitute a recommendation or bad review of any particular company or bit of software. It is not all inclusive, and there are many other good and bad programs out there.

Peace, Doc

Copyright © 2008, Thomas A. Blood, Ph.D.

"The word 'free' can have multiple meanings." - Wikipedia

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