Keeping intruders out of your system is half the challenge; making it impossible to find your valuable data is the other. We've rounded up 10 downloads to help you do just that.
Set your data to self-destruct when you're done with it
The final component of securing your data is making sure that any files you want dead are really most sincerely dead, and for this task you must turn to disk- and file-removal tools. Using the standard Windows Recycle Bin merely removes the visible reference to the file and marks the space as available; Windows does not truly delete any data until something overwrites that data, and may leave large chunks of recoverable data visible. Those leftover chunks allow undelete and file-recovery tools to work; the trade-off when you use strong file-removal tools is that you won't be able to restore accidentally zapped data easily, unless you've previously backed it up on another source.
'Secure' deletion is the subject of much discussion. A 1996 paper by Peter Gutmann of the University of Auckland produced a value of 35 passes, but these days that number is generally considered far too high due to increases in drive density. The '35 passes' number has become, in the words of the author of the original study, 'a voodoo incantation' - but it's often a standard in many workplaces nonetheless. The programs discussed here all support a variety of data-erasure algorithms, including the 35-pass 'Gutmann' standard.
The free and open-source File Shredder utility allows you to select files or folders to be deleted, or it can wipe free space with several different algorithms. Although I experienced no issues with it, development on it has ceased, which makes it a risky choice as file formats evolve; new disk formats, security changes, and file systems appear fairly regularly, so a lack of active support can mean security problems. Also free (but not open-source) is CCleaner, a suite of system-scrubbing utilities that sweeps up temp files, cookies, recently opened file lists, Registry clutter, and more. It offers the ability to scrub free space or to wipe complete volumes, as well as the freedom to choose specific files or folders (and specific file types, such as all *.xls files in a given folder) or to exclude specific files from general rules.
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