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The five best data removal tools

Ensure your files and data are wiped completely from your PC

Most PCs have at least some information that their owners would rather not share with the world: user names, passwords, financial records, work documents, whatever they might be.

You could just delete a confidential file when you no longer need it, but this only removes a reference or two from your file system. The actual contents will remain on your hard drive (and accessible to any snooper with an undelete tool) until they're overwritten by something else, which could take weeks, months, maybe even years. If you want to be sure that private files are gone forever, then, you need to use a secure deletion tool. Here's five of the best that are also available to download for free.

Eraser 6.0.8

At the simplest level Eraser can just overwrite a file before deleting it, which means there's nothing left for software undelete utilities to recover. But if you prefer to be thorough then you can choose to have your data overwritten several times, using various bit patterns, which scrambles it so securely that not even specialist data recovery hardware could restore the contents.

WIPE 2011.07

WIPE is a privacy tool that can be used to ensure that no revealing information about computer activity is left on your hard drive. As well as clearing your browsing history and cookies, the program will also delete auto-complete entries, clean index.dat files and remove temporary internet files.

Free File Wiper v0.4a

Free File Wiper not only enables you to delete files, but also ensures they are overwritten, so they cannot be recovered. This portable app appears as a trash can icon that can be positioned anywhere on screen and any files that are dragged to this floating window will be securely deleted.

WipeFile 2.1

WipeFile can remove all traces of documents from a hard drive by overwriting them in any of 14 different ways. The different methods of overwriting , ranging from a single quick pass to industry standard overwriting 35 times, enable you to balance speed of execution with security.

Many of these histories can be deleted from within Windows, if you know where to look. It takes a while, though, and isn't that secure - anyone who's really determined to monitor your activities can often simply undelete the files they need.

Eusing Free Window Washer 2.9

Every time you use your PC, you leave tracks that tell others what you've been doing. The documents you've viewed, the programs you've launched, the websites you've visited, the videos you've played, all these and more are easily available to any snooper with access to your system.

For real security, then, you need a specialist tool like Eusing Free Window Washer 2.8. The program is able to wipe a wide range of histories, for Windows, Microsoft Office, Instant Messengers, Outlook Express, most browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Netscape), and a long list of applications (everything from 7-Zip to ZoneAlarm). And if your required software isn't on the list, then you can easily customise the program to delete the folders and Registry keys you specify.

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