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Deleted Files Are Not Really Deleted

By Miroslav B. Bonchev
Part I
For many people, the statement in the title may sound a little strange. For others it may sound reasonable, they might respond: "But of course, they are placed in the Recycle Bin. You have to empty the Recycle Bin to fully delete the files." Yet another group of people understands the problem. The objective of this article is to make the reader a member of the third, privileged group of people.

One way to express what this title actually means is to say "The information contained in a deleted file is not deleted upon the deletion of the file." Yet another way to say the same thing is "When files are deleted they are ONLY marked as deleted and thus no longer listed by the system as existing files." - notice the word only.

Everyone knows that the Recycle Bin is pretty much a normal folder, except that it has its own icon and has slightly different behaviors compared to ordinary folders. Presently however, most people assume that after the Recycle Bin is emptied, the files and their content are gone forever. This assumption is not true. When the Recycle Bin is emptied, the files and folders that were in it are ONLY marked as deleted by replacing one of the symbols in their names with a forbidden filename symbol ('*'). Thus, the system no longer CONSIDERS the "deleted" files as existing, so it may overwrite parts of them at any time, including years later, or even … never. In other words, when files are deleted they are merely declared deleted.

The above revelation may cause many people to wonder if is it possible that files, or the information contained within them, might be fully or partially recovered seeing as they have not actually been completely deleted. Indeed, there are many tools that are able to recover data. While in rare cases these tools may be a "life saver", in most cases they produce undesirable effects. Suppose that there is some personal information on your computer which you want to destroy before recycling the machine. You delete the files, empty the Recycle Bin and dispose of the machine. It only takes a few minutes or seconds for anyone equipped with one of these inexpensive data recovery software programs to recover your private information to use as they please. This is very easy to do, and does not require any special "techie" knowledge.

The good news is that there are easy solutions. One of them is Act On File, a software package created by MBBSoftware. Act On File has a lot of functions, but its Eraser module is particularly useful for truly destroying data. It is equipped with all kinds of powerful tools, such as the True Delete, Erase Scraps and Erase Drives functionalities that can deal with the aforementioned problem. We will discuss these tools in the next part of this article.

Act On File can be downloaded from: http://www.mbbsoftware.com/Products/Act-On-File/2012/Download.aspx.
Part II
In Part One, we identified a serious security issue with deleted files. It turned out that deleted files are only declared deleted and so they are no longer displayed by the operating system, and by using appropriate software they could be easily partially or fully recovered, even long after the Recycle Bin has been emptied. While this may be helpful for files deleted by mistake, which perhaps is not so often since the Recycle Bin acts as a buffer, it is most certainly a very serious security thread.

The solution is to overwrite the content of the deleted files as they are being deleted.

The Eraser module from Act On File by MBBSoftware has specifically been created to resolve this problem and truly destroy deleted files. This software is not only powerful, elegant and easy to use, but it also offers a number of other benefits when it comes to truly destroying information.

The True Delete functionality of the Eraser module of Act On File is designed to truly destroy the information of the deleted files. To use the software, you must first install Act On File. Act On File integrates with Windows Explorer and embeds a number of entries for its different functionalities in the Windows Explorer context menu. To "True Delete" files and folders, simply select them and click the context button of the mouse. Now instead choosing the "Delete" option of Windows, select the "Eraser" and then "True Delete" entry which Act On File embedded in the Windows Explorer context menu. The True Delete window appears with the selected items. Once the selection is ready, simply click the "OK" button. The True Delete functionality will overwrite the data, enlarge the size and change all properties and the name of each "true deleted" file and folder before they are "normally deleted" bypassing the Recycle Bin. Thus, the original information of "true deleted" files become unrecoverable and the files and folders themselves become unrecognizable. For added security, one can request the module to perform the "true delete" function on the items multiple times. This is to protect from the theoretical possibility of data being recovered based on the state of the edges of the points on the disk due to the head wobbling. A several loop "True Delete" on a file makes such data recovery implausible.

The Erase Scraps functionality is designed to truly destroy the information of files that have already been deleted via the Recycle Bin or other methods which have not truly deleted the data. Even when one is careful to always use True Delete for their private files, there are many cases when that is not enough. For example, to protect the user, data some Archiver software works with temporary copies of the archives until all changes are successfully completed. Then the temporary file becomes the official one and the former archive is quietly deleted, bypassing the Recycle Bin. Most word processors also work with temporary files, as well as many other types of editors and general software. The The Erase Scraps functionality however is used to truly delete all areas of space on a drive that are not occupied by valid files and thus truly destroys any leaked private data.

The The Erase Drives functionality wipes out whole drives, which is imperative before discarding old hard, flash or other drives.

Act On File can be downloaded from: http://www.mbbsoftware.com/Products/Act-On-File/2012/Download.aspx.
Miroslav B. Bonchev
8-th May 2012
London, England
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