How to make sure your data is deleted?

You may be under the impression that if you delete a file from your computer’s recycle bin, it disappears into thin air. If so, you are wrong. Deleted files do have a journey – a sort of an after-life where they exist and haven’t even moved out of your hard disk. You don’t see them because their pointers have gone away. Pointers are a form of data pointing to places in the hard disk where the actual files they are referencing to can be found.


Deleting pointers is like deleting a chapter by removing it from the index page. Data recovery tools can still sift through the contents of your hard disk and recover it. Unless, you have overwritten it with new data. In which case, the deleted files can get modified and assume a strange form (like a digital Frankenstein).

In simple terms, when you delete a file, it goes to the recycle bin. If you wish, you can restore it from there. This is useful in the event where you accidentally delete a file. It doesn’t free up space though and you may want to delete it permanently. In that case, you can use the Shift + Delete shortcut. It’ll permanently (well, maybe not) delete the file from your computer. If something gets deleted from the Recycle Bin accidentally, softwares like EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard and Stellar Data Recovery can come to your rescue.


Even when you format your laptop, you don’t delete all the files permanently. They are likely to be recovered using a professional tool.


How does the data recovery process work?


The process might defer between different softwares, but it usually starts with your hard drive being sent to a lab. After analysis, you are offered a quote and given a time frame in which your data will get restored.


Softwares like Stellar Data Recovery also give us an option to repair the photos and videos that have been corrupted. In an interview with The Financial Express, their founder and CEO Sunil Chandna said, “The most important thing that we are trying to do is creating more self-service tools. This is because whenever it’s a service, the turnaround times are extremely long. Therefore, we are trying to help enable consumers and businesses in their hour of need so that they can help themselves 24×7. We are not helping them just in data recovery but also in repairing. We now have packaged repair tool which is designed for people who don’t have any technical capabilities.”


How to delete a file beyond recognition


In case you have some sensitive data that you want to delete completely, you should overwrite the file several times. Let’s understand the process by which you can overwrite a file. If you delete 512 GB of data, you need to replace it with 512 GB of new data. You can also use services like BitRaser to help you.


A couple of rewrites should be enough, but some people go to the extent of overwriting it 35 times. If you belong to a defence organization, you may also consider physically destroying the hard drive (like paper is shredded) to be safe.


Sometimes, electronic waste from such organizations ends up in places like Ghana. Criminals there have successfully restored confidential and multi-million-dollar agreements belonging to defence and intelligence agencies, homeland security and the TSA.


Is paper shredding safe?


History has proven that shredded documents can be recovered. Scanning them and feeding them to a computer software can help in matching the pieces together.


In 1979, Iranian students captured the US Embassy in Tehran. They took the help of local carpet weavers and after a few years, they were able to recover thousands of confidential pages belonging to the CIA. If you want to avoid your shredded documents from being recovered, make sure that every shredded particle is as small as possible.


According to scientists, in 5.4 billion years, the entire earth might get ‘deleted’ by the overpowering heat of the sun. For now though, the buzz word is ‘make’. Google Books’ Ngram Viewer suggests that we are way more obsessed with creation rather than deletion and that is most definitely a good thing.


References:

1. Where Do Deleted Files Go? (Vsauce)

2. The Computer Thief Who Made an Artist’s Work Better: An Unlikely Tale (Slate) (NSFW)

3. Unshreddable (Slate)

4. Who, What, Why: How do you reassemble shredded documents? (BBC)

5. We work on data lifecycle – from cradle to grave: Sunil Chandna, Founder & CEO, Stellar Data Recovery (The Financial Express)

6. Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground (Frontline World)