We all know that deleting a file in Windows doesn’t actually remove it from your hard drive–that file may be stored in the Recycle Bin, which keeps it intact in case you wish to restore it. Even if you bypass or empty the Recycle Bin, the file’s clusters still reside on the disk unless they’re overwritten with other data. And even then, a professional recovery product can often restore an overwritten file.
You may want to completely and securely delete a file if it contains sensitive information, or if you plan to dispose of your computer and want to be sure no one can access or view the file. You can turn to a third-party deletion or shredding tool that fully deletes a file by overwriting it multiple times with random data so the file is virtually impossible to recover.
To remove files, these programs support various erasure methods or algorithms, including ones defined by the US government. Many such tools (free and paid) are available. In this article, we’ll look at three free products: Eraser, File Shredder, and Freeraser. All three programs are compatible with any desktop version of Windows from XP to 10; Eraser, File Shredder, and Freeraser also work with Windows Server.
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Eraser can securely delete individual files, whole folders, entire disk drives or partitions, and even unused space on a disk. The program adds itself to File Explorer so you can easily select a file, a folder, or a drive to erase. You can also set up various tasks to run manually, run each time you load Windows, or run on a scheduled basis.
Download and install Eraser from its website. After installation, open the program, select Settings, and make sure the option to Integrate Eraser Into Windows Explorer is enabled if you want to remove files via Explorer. Open File Explorer. Right-click on a file you wish to remove. Hover over the Eraser command in the pop-up menu and click Erase (Figure A). Eraser asks for confirmation to erase the file. Answer Yes, and then the file is deleted.
To set up a task, open Eraser. Click the down arrow next to Erase Schedule and select New Task. At the Task window, type a name for your task. Click the Add Data button and select the file, folder, or other content you want to erase. Click the drop-down box for Erasure Method to choose a specific erasing standard. Click OK. You can now schedule the task or click OK to close the Task window and then run it manually (Figure B).
I used Eraser to remove several files and folders. I then checked the deleted files with a couple of recovery tools. Even in cases where the files were accessible, their contents were unreadable.
SEE: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the PDF version (TechRepublic)
File Shredder is another erasure utility that you can run from the program or within File Explorer. It can shred files, folders, partitions, and free disk space.
Download and install the program from its website. To manually remove an item, open the program and select the option to Add File or Add Folder. You can add multiple files and folders. When you’re ready to pull the plug, click the button to Shred Files Now (Figure C).
Alternatively, open File Explorer. Select and right-click on the file or folder or multiple files or folders you want to delete. Hover over the command for File Shredder and select the option to Secure Delete Files (Figure D).
To tweak File Shredder, open the program and click the link for Shredder Settings. Here you can control the integration with File Explorer and choose a specific erasure algorithm (Figure E).
I tested File Shredder by deleting various files and folders. I tried restoring some of the deleted files through recovery software, and all were unreadable.
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Freeraser is designed as a quick way to securely delete individual files. Rather than appear as a full-screen program or integrate itself into File Explorer, Freeraser floats on your Windows desktop as a trash can icon. You can drag and drop files you wish to delete or select them from the icon.
Download Freeraser from the Softonic software site. When you install the program, you can opt for a standard installation to put it on your hard drive or a portable installation to place it on an external drive or a USB stick. After installation, right-click on the program’s desktop icon. From the pop-up menu, click the option to Select File To Destroy. You can select multiple files, though you can’t select an entire folder. Open the files you selected and click Continue at the icon to delete those files (Figure F).
As an alternative, open File Explorer and drag the files you want to remove onto the Freeraser icon. Again, click Continue to remove the files.
You can move the Freeraser icon anywhere on your desktop. Right-click the icon and you can change its size and transparency and choose to keep it always on top of open windows (Figure G). From the program’s settings, you can also select the destruction mode (Fast, Forced, or Ultimate) and elect to run the program each time Windows starts.
I deleted multiple files with Freeraser, all of which were unreadable when I tried to bring them back to life using file recovery software.