Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

How to REALLY delete – or recover – a file

Folks, today is a happy day here at Tech–for Everyone Headquarters, and I am starting a sort of “vacation mode”. Today’s article is a re-posting.

I don’t know how long it was that I worked and played on computers before I truly understood that when I erased a Word document from my My Documents folder it was not gone forever. I believe it was only natural to think it was “deleted”. It was gone, as far as I could tell. It didn’t show up no matter how I searched for it nor how desperately I needed it back. And believe me, there was many a time that I wished I could get a deleted letter or homework assignment back. If I cannot see it…and my machine cannot see it…and my machine says that the space it took up is now ‘free’…it is gone, right? I certainly thought so.

I think it’s rather important that you understand, if you don’t already, that when you right-click+delete, or drag something into the Recycle Bin, it isn’t really erased. Instead, the name/path entry in the file allocation table (the directory used to locate and ‘find’ files) is altered in a way that tells Windows to no longer display the file and that this (physical) area is now available for future storage.

The same thing happens when you take the drastic step of formatting your hard drive — it isn’t “wiped” like taking an eraser to a chalkboard: the Master Boot Table and the file directory are similarly altered, and once that occurs the machine can neither find your files nor your operating system — the rest of the 1’s and 0’s are left in place.

It is because of this fact — that files aren’t erased, but their directories and names are altered — that undelete and unformat utilities can perform their miracles. Instead of ignoring or treating these altered entries as writable space, they (attempt to) deliberately seek them out and rename them back to a recognizable formula, which restores Windows’ ability to ‘see’, find, and display them.  (If you need to recover files, please see, How to recover your lost files)

So, why couldn’t my undelete restore my file? The most likely reason is: because Windows sees the deleted file as usable space, it has written something new in that location — and now that new 1’s and 0’s are there, your file really and truly is gone. (The more time that elapses since you deleted the file, the more likely it is that it has been written over.)

Tip of the day: Never assume that your data has been erased. In fact, I suggest thinking in an opposite manner: assume that no matter what proactive measures you’ve taken, your data is on that hard drive. Tell yourself that a knowledgeable person with the right tools, if they get their hands on your hard drive, can read it. (There are some people in this industry who insist that your files aren’t really gone until your hard drive has been melted in a blast furnace!) Particularly keep this in mind when the time comes to donate, or otherwise get rid of, your old computer.

If you are security-conscious, and you want to ensure that when you erase something it’s really and truly erased (or you are about to donate your old PC) I recommend that, if you don’t already have one, you download a free file shredder utility (I will put one as today’s free link) and to choose one that offers multiple methods of shredding.

What a “shredder” does is it writes new data, and it does it in multiple passes. Typically writing all 1’s on one pass, all zeros on the next pass, and then a completely random pattern of 1’s and 0’s, and so on. It is generally recognized that your shredder should make 6-12 passes.

If you do this, you can donate your old PC comfortable in the knowledge that only a several thousand-dollar restoration, performed in a sterile lab, might render your personal information readable again. (If you are a corporation, and it’s time to throw out your old hard drives, and there’s highly sensitive data on those drives, melt them.)

Today’s free download: Zilla Data Nuker 2 (Please note: this program is an exception to my rule of always having run and tested the links I suggest. I have not ever needed to download a file shredder as I’ve always had one bundled into the Utility Suites I have on my machines. However, this application is 5-star rated by Cnet, and I was unable to locate it on any “blacklists”. It is the one I would try first.) From Cnet, “This powerful program helps you shred important files & folders so that they cannot be restored & prevent attempts to recover sensitive deleted files from your hard drive by data recovery or forensic software. Shredder allows you to purge, wipe & erase data with methods that far exceed US Department of Defence standards for file deletion (DOD 5220.22). Easily automate the cleaning process with batch files, shortcuts and scheduler. Supports complete folder deletions including subfolders.

Today’s free link: Spam and Botnets – Who’s Responsible?

*Original post: 6/22/07

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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July 13, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, file system, how to, missing files, recycling, security, software, tech, Windows | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Right Way To Dispose Of Old Tech Gear

One of the great things about Tech is there’s always something new coming out; and Moore’s Law tells us that the power of computers doubles every 18 months– Tech is ever evolving and advancing.ewaste

What is not so great about that is our gear becomes obsolete, and winds up gathering dust on a closet shelf or taking up room in our garage. What did you do with that huge CRT monitor when you got the nifty flat-panel LCD?

Our old tech equipment contains many materials and chemicals that are quite poisonous — lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic, to name a few (aka “e-waste”) — and they must be properly disposed of so they won’t cause an environmental disaster and poisoned water supplies, like it’s currently doing to China, India, and Pakistan.

So, how do you get rid of that old stuff the right way?
Essentially, there’s two good ways to dispose of your old tech gear– recycling, and donation.

Recycling: We know that we can’t just toss our old stuff in the trash, so what do we do with it?
1) You may not know this, but when you purchased your item, you may have also paid a “disposal fee” as part of the purchase price, and the manufacturer will take the old item off your hands (this is standard practice these days). Contact the device manufacturer and ask how to recycle their item.
Dell, for example, will take any Dell product in for recycling at no charge.
2) Your town may accept e-waste for a fee (this covers the cost of properly separating out the toxins), and a Internet search (or the Yellow Pages) will point you to the nearest drop-off point. Also, where I live, there are special “amnesty days” once a year, and toxins can be turned in at no cost.
3) Another form of recycling is donation, where your old tech can be put back to beneficial use.

Donation: I am a big fan of donating tech and getting more life out of it. Two factors must be considered when thinking about donation: the age of the device, and whether it’s in working order. If the device is of a fairly recent vintage, it probably can be put to use whether it’s currently working or not– but no matter how well it’s working, nobody’s going to want Pentium II computers, 10 Mbps co-axial networking gear, and daisy-wheel printers (okay.. maybe somebody would.. but good luck finding them!)

1) Your old tech may actually be worth a few dollars. Repair tech’s like me sometimes acquire old equipment for replacement parts. If you’ve an inclination, you may want to list your old gear in the classifieds, and/or on sites like eBay and Craig’s List. It won’t make you rich, but you might be surprised at the interest you get.
2) Donating non-working gear can actually assist job training, and so just because it’s not working doesn’t mean you can’t donate it. You may want to check with schools near you and see if they will accept your stuff (I’m thinking High Schools and Adult Schools, but..?) Also, you may want to consider contacting the Free Geek community.
Recycles.org is a Website that specializes in helping you locate a place willing to accept your gear.
3) Get a receipt. Your donations may (probably) qualify for tax credits.

Please Note– A word of caution: When getting rid of any device that has storage memory– such as a computer’s hard-drive, or cellphone’s Flash– you must take special precaution and thoroughly eradicate the 1’s and 0’s: simple deleting is NOT ENOUGH. Your data can be retrieved. Please read Delete does NOT erase your data*– preventing recovery and follow the advice there before allowing the device to leave your control.

Today’s free link: Porn Surfing – Put a Software Condom on Your Computer!
Original posting: 8/27/08

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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November 22, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, gadgets, hardware, how to, PC, recycling, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment