Using Eraser to Delete Private Data Completely from Old Disks

by Tracy Knauer •

Keeping your data private while online is one thing, but how do you protect data on old computers or disks after they’re no longer in use? Eraser, an open source data destruction tool, provides a solution.

Contrary to popular belief, “deleting” files from your computer doesn’t make them go away forever. In most cases, file deletion simply removes information from the file system that maps where data is stored on a disk. The data itself stays in place until it is overwritten.

Depending on file system type and how many additional writes to the file system take place after deleting a file, it is often possible to recover parts or all of a deleted file, sometimes long after it was deleted.

Even erasing entire file systems or partitions, or reformatting a hard drive completely, doesn’t guarantee that old data won’t be recoverable.

For these reasons, discarding old disks or computers without fully erasing the data on their storage devices can be a privacy risk. Someone with data recovery or undelete tools could access the information you previously stored on them, even if you deleted it.

The solution to this threat is to deploy a “data destruction” tool, like Eraser. True to its name, Eraser makes data disappear completely by overwriting the places on a disk where deleted files were stored. The program replaces old data with new information in a way that leaves data recovery tools virtually no way of resurrecting erased files, or even confirming that they existed.

Eraser is only one of numerous data destruction programs. As a free and open-source app, however, it offers convenience and peace of mind, since the open nature of its code makes it difficult for developers to engineer back doors into the product.

The only downside is that Eraser only supports Windows. If you’re running Linux or Mac OS X, however, you can use built-in Unix tools, like dd, to among other utilities, to do the job.

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