3 Simple Ways to Erase Private Data Permanently in Windows

Updated on June 6, 2018

Keeping private and sensitive data safe should be the top priority, especially when you are using or selling your digital electronic devices like PC, smartphone, storage media, etc. Usually people use ‘Shift+Delete’ to get rid of files and folders permanently. However, using ‘Shift+Delete’ or emptying recycle bin doesn’t actually remove data from the drive. Similarly, quick formatting replaces the File System and storage table without deleting the real data; thus, data can be recovered. Even deleting a volume or partition doesn’t help. The inaccessible data from a deleted partition can be recovered with the help of a professional data recovery tool.

Deleting files, internet history, and clearing caches through file explorer or any tool like CCleaner actually doesn’t remove the information stored on the system hard drive or an external storage media. It just removes path to access those files. Therefore, the files still remain on the hard drive, unless overwritten, and can be easily accessed with the help of a data recovery tool.

The recovered files may contain sensitive data like your online transaction, bank details, login passwords, auto fill forms data, browsing history, chat messages, cookies, and much more. Similarly uninstalling apps from the system doesn’t remove the application traces – files and folders saved at different location by various applications in Windows system containing data related to app usage. Also, the empty space of your system’s hard drive may still contain previously deleted data and sensitive files that can also be recovered with the help of a data recovery tool.

Therefore, in order to permanently remove the data from hard drive or any other storage media, you must overwrite it or in simple words – don’t just delete, erase it. Erasing data means destroying the data by overwriting the data with a pattern of 0’s and 1’s. This makes recovery impossible and keeps your data safe.

How to Erase Private Data Permanently – Beyond Recovery

Below we have explained three different ways to erase private data permanently from Windows laptop or PC. The first two methods are a little bit tricky for a person who is not well versed with computers. However, with the help of step-by-step instructions that we provided, it’s simple and easy.

1. Overwriting using SDelete

SDelete is a CMD (command line) based secure delete utility that allows you to delete files, directories, and erase the free space on the disk by overwriting the files with secure delete pattern.

Follow these steps to securely delete your sensitive and private data using SDelete:

  • Download the SDelete tool from Microsoft’s official page and extract the files to a folder at Desktop or any other location in your Windows system.
  • Press Windows + R, type cmd and press ‘Enter’ – Windows Vista and Windows 7. For Windows 8 and above - press Windows + S and type cmd. Right-click on Command Prompt and choose ‘Run as administrator’. A CMD window appears.
  • Navigate to the SDelete file location. For example, if it’s located in D:\tools, type cd D:\tools and hit ‘Enter’.
  • Type sdelete > and hit ‘Enter’. For example, type sdelete d:\tools\mytext.txt and hit ‘Enter’ to remove the mytext.txt stored in D drive’s ‘tools’ folder file.
  • After deletion, a message appears confirming whether and how many files deleted successfully.

SDelete removes data permanently from the hard drive and makes file recovery impossible. However, there are few drawbacks that can’t be ignored.

  1. Command Line interface makes it hard to delete several files and folders located at different location.
  2. You must know the directories and file locations of all temporary files, junk files, browser data, office document backups, etc., which is completely impractical.
  3. Time consuming and troublesome since there is no GUI.
  4. Not safe to use, because if you don’t know what you are doing you may end up deleting some important system files that can also lead to permanent data loss.

2. Overwrite Private Data with WinHex

WinHex is a powerful multi-functional tool helpful in computer forensics, low-level data processing, data recovery, and IT Security.

  1. Download, extract, and install the WinHex program.
  2. Launch the program.
  3. Click ‘Open Disk’ on Menu Bar, select the required disk, and click ‘OK’.
  4. Double-click the file that you want to delete. File content is shown in the form of Hex codes.
  5. Replace all original values with different random data (values). Then save and close the file.
  6. Open File Explorer and check the same file to view its content. You will notice that the original data is completely overwritten with some random symbols and text or the file becomes corrupt. Therefore, the original file can never be recovered with any data recovery tool.

But the tool has some huge drawbacks:

  1. Not Safe: It’s a very powerful and complex tool that requires some professional (technical) knowledge to use it safely. You may end up deleting or overwriting some important files or folders on your system that can lead to system crash, unusual behavior, and even permanent data loss.
  2. Requires Time: The tool is too slow and since it requires opening every file to overwrite them, it is time-consuming, troublesome, and inefficient.
  3. Complicated Interface: User-interface is very basic and outdated

3. Using a Data Erasure Program – BitRaser for File

Using a Data Erasure tool such as BitRaser for File – a GUI based user-friendly data erasure tool – gives you a great piece of mind as it safeguards your privacy by permanently erasing files, folders, internet history, etc. from the Windows system beyond the scope of recovery. Unlike above-mentioned utilities, the BitRaser for File software is completely safe and secure to use as it does not affect any system or program files present in the C: drive.

The BitRaser for File uses 17 international standards and algorithms such as NATO, U.S. Department of Defense (DoD Standard 5220.22-M) 3 pass/7 pass, etc. to accomplish such a high degree of data privacy. The erased data can’t be accessed or recovered even with the help of forensic tools.

Moreover, the tool helps you to wipe the empty spaces (unused storage), that may contain previously deleted file on your system drive using any or all (one at a time) of the 17 algorithms.

To erase the private data permanently in Windows using BitRaser for File, follow these steps.

  1. Download and install BitRaser for File.
  2. Launch the program and go to ‘Tools’.
  3. Select the Erasure Algorithm and Verification from the respective drop-down list and then click on the ‘Home’ tab.
  4. Click ‘Erase Now’ in the left-tree view and then browse the location of the files and folder that you want to permanently erase.
  5. Click the checkbox of files you want to delete and then click the ‘Erase Now’ button located at the bottom-right corner of the screen.
  6. Wait till the erasure process is finished. Click ‘Yes’when prompted to reboot.
  7. After reboot, launch BitRaser for File and this time click on ‘Internet Activities’
  8. Click on the web browser you use for browsing the internet or click ‘Select All’ checkbox to select all supported web browsers installed on your system.
  9. Click ‘Erase Now’ and then click ‘No’ when prompted to reboot.
  10. Click Application traces and then click ‘Select All’ to erase all application traces or you can select individual check box to select which application traces you want to remove from the system.
  11. Click ‘Erase Now’ and then click ‘No’ when prompted to reboot the system.
  12. Click System Traces in the left-tree view and then click the ‘Select All’ checkbox.
  13. Click ‘Erase Now’ and then click ‘No’ when prompted to reboot after erasure process is finished.
  14. Now click on ‘Erase Unused Space’ and then select the hard disk volumes from where empty space is required to be wiped off. This ensures that any previously deleted files cannot be recovered using any data recovery tool.
  15. After erasure, click ‘Yes’ to reboot the system.

You have now successfully and completely erased your private data from your system that can’t be recovered now with any means. You also have an option to Add Erasure List that facilitates users to add a list of files and folders that are automatically created by applications containing sensitive data. The created list can be accessed later and with just one click those files and folders can be erased. This saves you from browsing and erasing same files and folders again and again.

With Search File option, you can find and delete specific files. Schedule option lets you schedule automatic file or directory deletion based on time and system boot.

Only drawback of BitRaser for File is that the free version allows you to delete files less than or equal to 64 KB. To delete files bigger than 64 KB, you’ll have to purchase the license key which is totally value for money, considering the level of privacy and data security the tool provides.

Conclusion

If you need to delete few files, you may use SDelete or WinHex, however, the tools are complex to use and are capable of deleting system files without any prior warning. So use these tools carefully. On the other hand, BitRaser for File is a user-friendly and completely safe data-erasure tool as it doesn’t lists important file directories in the software screen like Windows files, program files, etc. and saves you from accidentally deleting important system files. With 17 international standards, you can be certain that your private data is completely sanitized beyond recovery.

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