Did you know that any person with a simple data recovery software program can restore deleted files from your hard drive? Not only that, but they can do this even if you have a freshly formatted drive. When you delete a file, it remains on the hard drive until it is overwritten by another file.
Scary, right? How do you delete your sensitive data, like passwords, completely if you want to sell your computer? Well, the best way to avoid fraud - and to make sure no one gets your deleted files - is to wipe the drive completely. Essentially, you are filling in the areas on the hard drive that were once occupied by the files. Using the delete key or clearing out the Trash bin won't do it.
You need dedicated third-party software to start the process of deleting hard drive files. First, you need to decide if you want to wipe the entire drive or specific sections. It is easier to wipe the entire drive, but focusing on just a few files is quicker. However, it is also easier to make errors when just working on specific files.
On the other hand, if you wipe out the data on the full hard drive, you erase the license for Windows that comes with it. This is true even if you retain the recovery partition and clean out the C: drive. Someone purchasing your computer rightly expects that license for Windows is included in the deal. Let's take a closer look at some programs that will take care of deleting files for you.
Take heed, though. These are not toys. Each of these programs will wipe your drive completely and there is no undo. If you forget that there are files that you wanted to keep on the same drive, it will be too late after it starts deleting files. So make completely sure that all of the information you want has been pulled off the drive before you use any of these software programs.
Often suggested as the best program for wiping hard drives by security professionals, Eraser works with:
- Windows XP (with Service Pack 3)
- Windows Vista
- Windows 7
- Windows 8
- Windows 10
- Windows Server 2003 (with Service Pack 2)
- Windows Server 2008
- Windows Server 2012
Actually, the program can even handle older versions like Windows 98 and Windows 2000. Eraser is free and can accommodate any Windows drive. You can easily wipe folders, files and other data, and even set up a timetable with the built-in Scheduler.
Darik's Boot and Nuke, commonly known as DBAN, is heavy artillery. You should really only use this program if you are an advanced computer user. Like Eraser, DBAN is free -- you download an ISO image of the program to your computer, then burn a DVD or CD with the image. After rebooting, you follow the menus to wipe the hard drive. Warning: there are no "do-overs" or support from anyone. Once it starts wiping computer files, it's too late to stop it, and there is no one to call if you delete the wrong information.
For most of you, Eraser will do an adequate job of wiping hard drive data. If you are a power user with lots of experience with PCs, DBAN is a professional program used by many security experts. Either one will keep your passwords and other private data away from prying eyes. The watchword here is to proceed cautiously, double-checking to make sure you are only deleting what you want to say "goodbye" to forever. Once Eraser or DBAN is done deleting computer files, you can be confident you or anyone else will never see those files again.