Windows is lazy. When you press the “delete” button on a file, it doesn’t actually delete it. You’ll know this if you’ve ever accidentally deleted a file and recovered it from the Recycle bin. But even when you’ve deleted a file from there, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be recovered. The stuff you see on programs like NCIS and CSI isn’t fiction. There are software programs out there which can quickly recover lost files – they’re not even expensive to buy. So if you’ve got some data that you want to permanently destroy then you need to do rather more than pressing the delete key.
If the files are on a hard disk that you’re never going to use again – for instance, you’re selling an old computer – then there are a few ways that you can do this:
- Take a hammer to the drive and smash it into tiny fragments. This is the best way and works a treat if you’re totally getting rid of the machine.
- Reformat the hard drive. Several times over. Again, good if you’re getting rid of a computer but not so good if someone else is buying the machine from you and expects a working licensed copy of Windows to be transferred with it.
If you only want to delete a handful of files permanently then you need to get hold of some software to do this.
As I mentioned earlier, Windows only removes the lookup facility when you delete a file. It leaves everything else on your hard drive until you need to re-use that space. Which on the ever-larger hard drives that are fitted to modern computers could mean that’s quite a while. Maybe near enough forever.
Which means that the next stage of your quest is to find some computer software which will permanently delete the files you want to get rid of.
It will do this by overwriting the area of your hard drive that the file was stored in. Typically this over-writing occurs many times, just in case there are any “ghosts” of the data left on your hard drive.
It will over-write the file data with random characters so that there is no pattern left on your hard drive.
The advantage of using software like this is that it knows precisely where your file was stored on your hard drive and can therefore use pinpoint precision to do the overwriting process. If you were doing this without software to help you, you’d need to be a geeky programmer and would need lots of time on your hands. So software is definitely the way to go.
Most software will come with some kind of demo mode – either in the form of videos showing you how easy the software is to operate or in the form of a program that can be used a handful of times to perform the deed.
Of course, one thing to remember when you decide to delete files permanently is that there really is no way to recover them. Once the software has done its job, not even the NSA will be able to retrieve your files. So just make sure that it’s something that you really want to do – there is no turning back!