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Deleted, But Not Really
If you think that you have deleted your important confidential information from your computer then you need to think again. There is a chance that someone can retrieve your deleted information.
Maintaining privacy in the era of digital information requires work on a number of fronts, whether fending off spyware, protecting important files with encryption or configuring a WiFi hot spot to keep interlopers off a wireless network. One basic privacy measure, however, is easily overlooked: proper data destruction.

Deleting confidential data completely is essential when donating or selling old computers, and it can also help maintain privacy on computers that may end up lost or stolen. And for businesses looking for ways to comply with the security requirements of laws like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a sound policy on data control and destruction is crucial.

When normal deletion methods like the Recycle Bin or the delete command are used, the computers operating system, for the sake of speed, creates an illusion that data has been deleted. In fact, it merely earmarks that region of a disk or drive as being available for new data to overwrite the old data. Until that overwriting occurs, the old data can be retrieved with undelete programs and tools used by data recovery labs and law enforcement agencies.

There are, however, several options for securely eliminating data from hard disks, USB flash drives and other storage media. These programs overwrite data with meaningless characters to render it unrecoverable with todays data recovery techniques. Some of the programs can overwrite entire drives, while others can single out individual files or other information saved by a computers operating system or programs like Web browsers. Shredding machines that can destroy diskettes, CDs and DVDs are also available.

Several programs are available to overwrite entire hard disks. These programs wipe away everything, including programs, documents and the computers operating system, so users need to be sure to have backup copies of important data and software before using them.

For example, Dariks Boot and Nuke, known also as DBAN, is a free open-source program available at It runs on Windows computers and offers six methods to overwrite data, including a Defence Department standard (DoD 5220.22-M) that can overwrite the disk three times, as well as a method called PRNG Stream Wipe, which can make a user defined number of disk over-writes using randomly generated characters.

The program, available in two formats, can be burned to CD or copied to a diskette. After a computer is started with either type of disk inserted, DBANs menu will load. (The computers boot device order, located in the BIOS, may need to be adjusted to load disk-wiping programs, which run their own operating systems.)

DBAN has won users partly because it is free, but also because of its open-source format. According to its author, Darik Horn, the programs coding can be scrutinised by anyone, which can help assure reliability. "In the current marketplace theres a huge push for reviewability, for openness," Horn said. "People want to trust their products."

Horn said a single overwrite should be enough to render data unrecoverable, but he recommends at least four overwrites to guard against possible future advancements in data recovery techniques and other unknowns.

Another program for wiping entire disks on Windows computers is WipeDrive from WhiteCanyon. It offers 12 overwriting methods, including the Defence Department standard with three overwrites, although the companys president and chief executive, Steve Elderkin, said methods that use a single pass are almost always enough to render data unrecoverable.

"If you overwrite it once, its gone," Elderkin said. But doing more than one overwrite is probably a good idea for disks more than five years old and also for smaller drives, as well as for peace of mind, he said.

WipeDrive has been available since 1996, Elderkin said. A single pass takes three to five minutes for each gigabyte of disk space, depending on factors like a disks speed. The program can examine all sectors of a disk to verify whether overwriting was successful.

Macintosh computers come with a tool to erase entire disks and attached drives. The feature, called Disk Utility, is included in the Utilities folder, and also on the system installation DVD or CD.
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Posted on : 9/11/2005
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