How To securely Retrieve and Delete PC files

Mark O'Neill 09-09-2007

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the scenario in TV crime shows. The cop is at a dead end and the evidence needed to nail the bad guy has been deleted off the hard-drive. Enter a geeky computer technician, wearing a Ghostbusters T-shirt and muttering techno-speak and whammo, before the cop can finish his doughnut and coffee, all the deleted information is retrieved and printed out. Conviction, serious prison time, end of TV show, time for CSI Miami on the other channel.


With Restoration, you can now play the part of the geeky computer technician and restore data that has been lost. You can also play the part of the tough techno-savvy criminal who cunningly uses a secure deletion program such as Eraser, to scupper the efforts of law enforcement. Let’s start with Eraser.


erasermenu.gifWhen you delete information from your hard-drive, it isn’t really gone. The computer just tells you it’s gone, it gives you back the hard-drive space and over a period of time, the deleted file gets written over and over with other data until it is no longer retrievable. But for a period of time after the file has been deleted, it can still be retrieved and brought back to life. This is why when you sell your old PC to someone, it’s good to delete all your files through a secure deletion program otherwise the new owner can fire up a retrieval program and see what they can find. If they find sensitive information such as tax forms or social security numbers, then you may find yourself with identity theft problems. If they find naughty photos then you might find your girlfriend suddenly being “Topless Babe of the Week” on a dodgy website.

But a program such as Eraser can solve all these problems in a flash (and save you 30 years in the joint because the FBI can’t restore that video of a mob hit in an underground car garage). Eraser deletes the file but then starts to immediately overwrite it over and over again until the file really is gone forever, or at the very least garbled beyond repair. Think of it as a computer version of a shredding machine. It will take your file and hack it into tiny little pieces. So use Eraser with caution. Once Eraser gets to work, you won’t get your file back so only use this tool with files you know you definitely don’t want to come back and bite you later (love notes from mistresses, compromising photos, that sort of thing).

Eraser integrates itself into your Windows trash bin so when you right-click on the trash bin to empty it, you can choose a regular emptying or an Eraser emptying.



restoration.gifBut if you don’t use the Eraser emptying, those files can come back again if you or someone else is determined enough. With a program like Restoration, you can specify the name of the file or simply the file type. It will then go to work seeing if the file is retrievable and if so, it will show you what can be brought back. You can then choose what you want and it will come back to your computer again.

Text files and pictures are the easiest to bring back. MP3 music files and video files are the hardest. If you are able to bring back a MP3 or a video file, it is likely to be corrupted in some way (garbled audio and / or inferior picture quality, missing segments, etc). It might be good enough to secure a conviction in a court of law but if you want to impress a lady friend with your movie-making skills or your singing skills, you’re probably better off starting afresh.

Do you know of any other good secure deletion / file restoration tools we should be looking at instead? Tell us in the comments!


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  1. Anonymous
    September 9, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    "Tune up utilities 2007" has a pretty good secure delete function called "tune up shredder". It seems to do a good job. You can choose between 3 methods and the number of repetitions you require.