Delete Your Data Securely on Windows

Background

Chidinma works in an NGO and needs to print some confidential data for internal use but their printer doesn't work so she prints it out of the office. She printed the data from a flash drive and when finished, deleted the files from the drive, then also from the recycle bin. She thought by emptying the flash drive she had gotten rid of the data. She was wrong.

 

In case you thought deleting a file removes it from your computer, you’re in for a surprise – it doesn’t. A copy of the file remains in a part of your computer called the Master Boot Disk. Someone intent on seeing them can use special software to do so.

If you want to make sure that data you erase is actually gone from your computer, you need secure deletion software. There’s a good one called Eraser. It’s popular, open-source (free), and uses the same principles as other tools. We’ll show you how to use it.

What is Eraser?

Eraser is easy to use and lets you delete data securely by overwriting the files with carefully selected random data, rendering them useless. You can delete files on demand or schedule a time for future deletion.

Step 1. Download the latest stable version of Eraser  (avoid using beta versions) and install it, accepting all the default settings.
Step 2. Run Eraser  and you’ll see an empty Erase Schedule. We’re going to securely delete a file manually, though, so select New Task from the Erase Schedule menu to display the Task Properties window and ensure Run Manually is selected as the Task Type. Click on Add Data to display the Select Data to Erase window.

 

Step 3. Make sure File is selected and click Browse to select the file or files you want to delete before clicking on Ok. Note that we’re choosing to delete the photo of a sign carrying the words “Keep Out”. Click on Open (a misnomer) and then OK and OK again. Finally, in the ‘Erase Schedule’ right-click on the file and select Run now from the menu.

Choose which files to delete

Step 4. The file is now deleted without trace so you can close Eraser .

Securely Delete Files in Explorer or From Your Recycle Bin

But if you don’t want to schedule deletion, and just want to delete individual files from Explorer, you can do that with the right-click context menu. Find a file you want to delete, then right-click on it. Then select the Eraser context menu and select whether you want to erase the file now or on the next computer restart.

You can follow the same process for files in the recycle bin.

Optional: Using the Portable App

Download it from PortableApps

Using the scheduler on the portable app works the same way, but you should plug in your flash drive when the tasks are to be carried out. Remember, the portable version of Eraser has no right-click context menu entry, making it somewhat harder to erase files in Explorer. You first need to run the app by double-clicking “EraserPortable.exe” from its installation folder.

Open the app and find the files you want to securely delete using Windows Explorer and drag them into the Eraser window. After they show on the list, simply click Play to securely delete the files.

Now you have an overview of how to securely delete your files using Eraser.