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by JB Burke

Q. If I delete personal data from my old computer before I get rid of it, am I protected from data theft?

A. It’s important to understand that deleting files doesn’t erase the data from your hard drive. All DELETE does is remove the pointer to the data. Then the space can be reused for another file. There are UNDELETE programs that can recover your deleted data. And in the wrong hands, your old drive might be a goldmine of personal data – bank account logons, passwords, etc. So Delete doesn’t make you safe.

There are, however, free ERASE programs that can totally remove the data from your hard drive, making it essentially impossible for anyone to recover the old data, and thus make it possible to dispose of your old computer safely. One that I use is called Eraser, and it can be found here: Once you install it you will find that when you right click on a file, group of files or directory in Windows Explorer, you see a new option – ERASE. The first time you use it, in the Confirm Erasing box click Options and choose something like DoD 7 pass. That means that the actual data – not just the index – will be overwritten 7 times with random ones and zeros. This takes a good deal longer than Delete, but now your data is truly gone. And remember, if you don’t feel confident doing this, ask a trusted techy friend or relative to help. Once you Erase, the data is GONE.

Published: Courier 4/19/09 - Page 5C