NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2004
Deleting Information from Hard Drives
by Gene Barlow, User Group Relations
Copyrighted May 2004
(click to email author)

The early hard drives on mainframe computers were not considered very reliable. Information stored on these early devices would often not record properly or may become contaminated easily. Programmers using these drives would write the data in two separate locations on the drive. Then, when the data was needed later, it would be read from both locations and compared in memory to make sure it was still the same. If differences were detected, then the program could not continue until the data was corrected and rewritten to the hard drive.

As technology advanced, special mathematical checking codes were stored with the data that could detect if the information retrieved from a hard drive was still valid. These codes eliminated the need to record the data twice, but did nothing to clean up any errors found. It wasn't long before more sophisticated checking codes were introduced that could not only detect errors, but would also actually correct most single and double character errors. Still, the recording of information on hard drives was not considered real reliable and frequent backup copies of the drives were necessary.

When the IBM PC was introduced with hard drives, the designers of these drives were still very concerned about loosing data on these devices. So, everything was done to make sure the data written to the drive remained on the hard drive and could not be accidentally deleted or lost. Today, it is almost impossible to permanently delete information, once it is written to a hard drive. Who would have thought that this retention of information would become a problem for computer users?

In today's world, privacy and security of information are major concerns. Identity theft is a major problem that we all face. With just a few pieces of information about us, dishonest individuals can steal large sums of money from us and ruin our credit ratings. At the same time, computers and the internet have made information much more widely available not only to us, but to these dishonest individuals. Unless we are careful, our private information can get into the hands of these dishonest individuals and they will certainly take advantage of the situation.

Recent studies have shown that hard drives on PCs contain a wealth of private information that most users thought they had removed from the drive months or years earlier. What these users do not understand is that simply deleting a file from the hard drive does not permanently remove it from the drive. In fact, all that deleting a file does is to flag that file space for future reuse. It may be years before that space is reused with another file or it may never be reused. So, the deleted information remains on the hard drive, hidden from the user, but still there. Dishonest individuals using commonly available software can find and access all of these deleted files.

Users that are knowledgeable enough to know that deleted files remain on the hard drive are often surprised to learn that formatting the hard drive does not get rid of these deleted files either. All the formatting function does is to create a few tables at the beginning of the partition. The deleted information on the hard drive is not removed or changed during a format. Operations such as defragging a hard drive only cause your private information to be copied and spread across the entire hard drive. So, how can you permanently remove private information once it is written to a hard drive?

The only effective way to permanently remove information from a hard drive is to write blanks or zeros over the top of the deleted information. This obliterates the information that was written there earlier. To do this, special hard drive wiping utilities must be used. Two of the best hard drive wiping utilities were developed by WhiteCanyon Software. I have come to know and rely on these excellent products. One or both of them could make your job of keeping your hard drive clean of hidden private or personal information easy to do.

The first of these two products is called WipeDrive. This is the bulldozer of the two products. When you use it to wipe your hard drive, it starts at the beginning of the drive and writes blanks on top of everything on the drive. It continues to wipe the drive until it reaches the end of the hard drive. When it is done, the entire drive is totally clean and empty. Nothing remains on the hard drive that a dishonest person could see or use against you. Everyone should use this utility before they sell or give their old computer or hard drive away. Otherwise, you are giving away all of your private information with your old computer. WipeDrive boots from a diskette or CD and can wipe all PC type hard drives. WipeDrive sells for up to $45 in computer stores, but user group members can obtain a copy from our User Group Store for just $24.

The second of these two products is called SecureClean. This is more like a vacuum cleaner, than a bulldozer. It vacuums the dirt out of the carpet, but does not knock over the furniture or the walls. In other words, it can clean the deleted information off your hard drive, but does not disturb the actively used files on the drive. The selective ability of SecureClean to wipe your hard drive, but not disturbing your current files, makes it the ideal tool to use on your current hard drives to keep them clean of deleted information. I recommend that you run SecureClean about once a month on your computer to permanently wipe over all deleted information on the drive.

Packaged with SecureClean is a bonus utility call SecureScan. This product will scan your hard drive and show you all of the deleted information that is hidden on the drive. You will be surprised at what you'll find still on your hard drive. You may find personal files that you deleted months or years ago that are still on the drive. You may even find some files that were accidentally deleted and you thought they were forever lost. If a deleted file is still complete, SecureScan can even bring this file back to life and make it available again on your hard drive. This un-delete function of SecureScan is not the main purpose of this program, but a nice additional feature that you may want to use. SecureClean and SecureScan install on any Windows operating system. SecureClean sells for $40, but user group members can obtain a copy from our User Group Store for just $24. Buy both WipeDrive and SecureClean/Scan for just $39, a $60 value.

To order either or both of these excellent hard drive wiping utilities, go to the User Group Store at http://www.usergroupstore.com. (or http://www.ugr.com/store) You can read more about these two products in the security department of the store. Click on any of the Buy Now buttons to get to our secure web order form. Complete the form including the special code of UGWCM04. You will be given the chance to verify and correct your order before it is submitted. Once you submit it, we will receive it shortly and normally we ship all orders the following morning. You should have your products in just a few days. While you are at the User Group Store, check out the many other products we offer, all at great user group discounts.

Preventing personal and private information from building up on your hard drive is important for all of us to do. Get the tools you need to keep your drive clean today. If you have any questions about these products or this technical newsletter, please contact me at gene@ugr.com. I look forward to helping you.

Gene Barlow
User Group Relations
PO Box 275
Orem, UT 84059-0275

This is one of a series of monthly technical articles that I plan to distribute on a regular basis in the coming months. Watch for them and learn more about your computer and its hard drive. User group newsletter editors may print this article in their monthly newsletter as long as the article is printed in its entirety and not cut or edited. Please send me a copy of the newsletter containing the article so that I can see what groups are running the articles.

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