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How To Erase Files/Folders Permanently From Hard Drive?

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Data Recovery isn’t what you always need. Sometimes, you want to get rid of the files that are way beyond the scope of recovery. These files mainly consist of (but not limited to) confidential, private, and sensitive data such as browsing history, saved passwords, card details, system activities, transactions, photos, videos, and more. Such data, if breached or recovered by some unauthorized person can cause a severe threat to privacy and may lead to financial losses.

Quora—a popular Q&A website was recently breached by malicious hackers, which compromised data of 100 million registered users including their password.

Last year, Equifax—the largest credit bureaus in the U.S was breached revealing personal details to hackers including Social Security Numbers (SSNs), birth dates, addresses, etc. Also, 209,000 consumers had their credit card data exposed.

A quite popular way to destroy such confidential and sensitive data is to destroy the storage media physically. Techniques such as degaussing, shredding, hammering, and crushing are applied to get rid of such confidential data. However, these methods generate toxic e-waste and significantly pollute the environment.

Did you know: 20 to 50 million metric tons of e-waste are disposed of worldwide every year.

Therefore, today we are going to discuss how to erase—not just delete—the files and folders from a hard drive in the most efficient, eco-friendly, and economical way to stay protected, always.

Best ways to Erase Files and Folders

While you can erase files and folders with a plethora of tools available online, it’s important for you to know that most of them overwrite only zeroes—which isn’t effective when it comes to data eraser. And yes, traces of erased data with such tools can be found and recovered.

That’s why data erasure standards were created and developed by renowned scientists and organizations such as Gutmann, NATO, U.S. Department of Defense (DoD 5220.22-M), etc.

Fortunately, today we have access to a few reliable file eraser tools that let us erase files and folders from a hard drive and other storage media using the aforementioned (& more) data erasure algorithms.

So today in this post, we are going to discuss three different methods to erase your sensitive files and folders from a hard drive effectively and beyond the scope of recovery.

Methods to Erase Files and Folders from a Hard Drive

Full Format the Drive

A full format is not something we recommend for daily use as it thoroughly cleanses the files and folders on the drive and overwrites zeroes—it takes time and may overheat the drive.

Usually, when you right-click and select format, the ‘Quick Format’ checkbox is always checked. Thus, when you click the ‘Format’ button, the drive is quick formatted, i.e. only the database containing the address to the files and folders is replaced with a new one.

Also, the space occupied by existing files is marked as unallocated for new data. But data remains on the drive unless overwritten.

So go ahead, uncheck the ‘Quick Format’ checkbox, click ‘Format’ to full format drive, and make data unrecoverable by overwriting zeroes.

However, the drawback of this method is that you cannot select and erase particular files and folders. This makes the job challenging and time-consuming if you are required to erase files and folders often. Also, it isn’t completely foolproof.

Use SDelete with Command Prompt

The method we are going to explain is a bit complex for non-tech savvy people. And we do not recommend this method unless you are familiar with the command line tools. A minor typo in writing command may destroy useful and critical data, which was not meant to be destroyed.

So follow these steps carefully:

  1. Download SDelete utility (221KB). It’s a free tool from Microsoft
  2. Copy the SDelete file on the hard drive’s root location
  3. Run command prompt and type your hard drive letter such as ‘Z:’ and press ‘Enter.
  4. Now type sdelete –p 3 -s Z:\FOLDER or FILE NAME and press ‘Enter’ 

PRO TIP: Type hard drive letter in command prompt and then press Tab key to auto-write/complete file or folder name

It’s also crucial to erase the empty (unallocated) space on the drive as it may contain previously deleted recoverable files and folders. To erase permanently deleted files on hard drive, type sdelete –p 1 –c Z:\

Where ‘Z’ is the hard drive letter. Press ‘Enter’ 

Increase the number of passes to ensure better data protection.

The SDelete uses DoD 5220.22-M data erasure standard to destroy data.

Get a File Eraser tool

As we stated earlier, today we have access to some of the best file eraser software that makes the job of destroying (erasing) files and folders from the hard drive and other storage much easier and efficient.

Besides, unlike command prompt and full format, the file eraser tool such as CCleaner, Eraser, DBAN, and BitRaser for File gives you complete control over what to delete and how to delete. Tools such as BitRaser for File and Eraser also provide you with the option to choose desired international data erasure standards for data destruction.

CCleaner is also a popular choice among Windows users. However, CCleaner only deletes your sensitive data such as browsing history, saved passwords, card details, system activities, transactions, etc. And the deleted sensitive data can be recovered with the use of a basic data recovery tool. Thus, CCleaner turns out to be ineffective when it comes to safeguarding sensitive files.

Thus, we recommend you to use erasure software that gives you more flexibility, and convenience while erasing data and better security from breaches. Use either Eraser or BitRaser File. BitRaser for File has an advantage of 17 data erasure algorithms along with verification methods and generates a certificate of erasure.

Also, remember the three R’s for a safer environment and sustainable development:

Conclusion

Before selling, sharing, donating, or discarding your PC, laptop, or any storage media with someone, always makes sure that the drive containing or used to contain your data is sanitized i.e. securely erased.

Erasing files and folders ensures permanent file destruction beyond the scope of recovery. Thus, no one will be able to retrieve the data from your drive. To sanitize drive, you can either use the command line based data erasure method or simply go with a file erasure tool such as the Eraser, BitRaser for File, etc.

Their graphical user interface makes them easy to use and is equipped with more 17 data erasure algorithms with verification method ensuring data destruction. Besides, BitRaser is the only eraser tool that also creates a certificate of erasure.

Author Bio: Manish Bhickta is a cyber-security wizard and raises a war against data breach and other online malicious activities. Helping endless people from various data breaches threats and spreading good words about proper IT assets sanitization  Twitter Handle: @ManishBhickta

More on this topic: The Benefits of Device Optimization


 

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