Data destruction used to be simple. You’d take your files to the office shredder, toss them in, and they’d be effectively destroyed...
Unfortunately, it’s much harder to destroy electronic files. You might think you’ve completely destroyed your files by emptying the trash folder, but that’s usually not enough to permanently delete files from your computer. Emptying your recycling bin appears to delete sensitive information, but really, all you’re doing is erasing the file’s “easy to find” location. It still exists on your computer.
Why can you still recover files?
Have you ever felt that moment of panic when you accidentally delete an important document? Or when you can’t find Monday morning’s presentation? We’ve all accidentally deleted files before. That’s why our computer systems are designed to protect our files. According to How to Geek, this is how it works:
Your operating system keeps track of the files you have on your computer with pointers. These pointers show your computer where each file lives. When you delete a file, there’s free disk space where the old file once lived. That space can now be used to store a new file. However, until your computer saves another file in that free space, the previous file still has a footprint there and can be recovered.
Why is it done this way?
For speed and recovery. Deleting a file’s pointer and marking the space as available is a much quicker process than rewriting or writing over large files. It also means we have the chance to recover files if they’re accidentally deleted.
So how can you permanently delete documents from your computer?
1. Overwrite it
When you delete sensitive files, they can still be recovered from your hard drive. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to prevent recovery: by overwriting your sensitive data.
Overwriting is usually done with a specialized program or software. When you’re overwriting, you’ll be literally writing over sensitive information with unimportant, meaningless data. The more times a file is overwritten, the harder it is to decode. There’s still some debate about how many times you need to overwrite to effectively wipe the file, but it’s generally recommended that you overwrite a file 3 times, if not more.
Degaussing is a process where your hard drive is passed through a powerful magnetic field to make it completely unreadable. While this method doesn’t actually delete your files, the magnetics scramble the magnetic fields of your electronics to the point that data recovery is nearly impossible.
Unfortunately, you can’t just run a fridge magnet over your hard drive. This method requires you to use a trained professional to ensure the magnetic fields are properly shuffled. Which means it probably isn’t the go-to method for most small businesses.
3. Destroy it
If you store sensitive information on a hard drive there’s one sure fire way to permanently destroy the data: physically destroy the hard drive. It’s kind of like shredding a paper document – except you’ll be shredding the electronics inside your hard drives.
Some companies offer this service for you, but it’s simple enough to do on your own. All you need to do is stop the electronics from running completely. You can do this by nailing through the drive, crushing it, or cutting it into pieces – however you can safely manage it. And this can be done for any electronic device, including memory cards or flash drives. The only downside? You’ve lost your entire storage device in the process!
It’s not the ideal destruction method for files, so if you’re about to head in this direction as a last resort, come see the professionals at Alt-Tech for a security consultation first. We can save you money and make sure all your sensitive files are securely stored or deleted.
To learn more about securely deleting files from your hard drive or if you need help recovering a file, schedule your free consultation. We’re ready to help you with all your managed cyber security needs, big or small.