Summary: Securing data while using the device, or when it changes hands, is resold, and is disposed of remains a priority for organizations and stakeholders alike. However, deleting or formatting data from the device can be detrimental to data security and often leads to data leakage. Therefore, secure erasure of files is necessary to ensure that the sensitive data does not fall into the wrong hands. This blog provides an overview of file erasure, how to erase files, its importance, and methods of achieving secure file erasure.
Knowing how to securely erase files from your device (PC, laptop, or Mac) is essential because if you don’t, sensitive information stored on your device can be retrieved, compromised, and misused. Despite the sensitivity of the information held on personal and professional computers, most people are unaware that simply deleting files or formatting the device is not a secure method of wiping data from them. A freely available DIY data recovery software can recover the data from these devices, compromising business and stakeholder information confidentiality. Therefore, it’s vital to understand the difference between deleting and securely erasing files.
What Is File Erasure & Its Importance?
File erasure is the method of permanently erasing files. A file eraser software can also securely and irreversibly erase folders, partitions, applications, internet cache, and other data traces from a storage device. File erasure involves overwriting the data with binary 1’s & 0’s or a pseudorandom character. This method makes recovery of the erased data impossible, even in a laboratory setting. File Erasure is confused at times with Drive Erasure. The latter erases data on the entire drive leaving nothing behind, including the operating system (OS). However, files, folders, and applications are erased in the former, leaving the OS intact.
The importance of securely erasing files can be gauged by understanding the privacy and security risks associated with dark data, data at rest, ROT (Redundant Obsolete Trivial) data, or residual data on storage devices. These risks apply to both live data and data at rest when devices are sold or disposed of.
Need to Erase Files- The Threats
Individuals store lots of sensitive information on a PC, Laptop, or Mac like personal data, PII, social security number, biometric data, medical information, passport, national identity cards, credit card numbers, online banking credentials, etc., that can be misused for financial fraud. In addition, people also store a lot of personal information like private pictures, contacts, text messages, emails, addresses, chat history, browsing history, date of birth, etc., that can be misused and can lead to harassment, extortion, and other kinds of physical/emotional threats. Furthermore, those who buy second-hand devices must also be careful and ensure that the device does not contain any residual data because if the device contains “illegal information” owned by the previous user, it can pose risks of litigation, loss of reputation, and embarrassment for the new owner/enterprise.
For businesses, the risks extend beyond compromising PII and personal data; they include misuse and theft of crucial business data, trade secrets, financial reports, intellectual property, and business intelligence. Instances of data breach expose firms to a high risk of financial loss, legal action, and brand reputation loss and humiliation. In addition, with strict legislative laws like the GDPR and CCPA, the implications for non-compliant businesses have grown even more severe, and so have penalties.
What is the Best Method to Securely Erase Files?
There are a few different ways to erase files securely, but which one is the most secure? Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular methods:
- File Eraser Software: File eraser software, both free and paid, are used for erasing files. The difference lies in what they offer in terms of features, functionality, effectiveness, and certification. For example, free software like FileShredder supports 5 data erasure standards but does not guarantee erasure or generate erasure certificates. Furthermore, free software can also corrupt operating systems by wiping necessary OS files, so careful consideration is needed before choosing one. On the other hand, popular paid software like BitRaser File Eraser erases files, folders, partitions, etc., leaving the operating system intact. The software is smartly developed to ensure the OS files are not visible to the user, keeping them intact. It also generates reports of erased files to help meet regulatory compliance. It is the most popular way to erase data, as it not only wipes the data but also verifies the data wiping process. In addition, you can automate & schedule erasure at regular intervals to ensure data security & privacy is maintained.
- Physical Destruction: Physically destroying drives is a last-ditch method of file eraser and should only be employed if the drive or files location has bad sectors and is no longer accessible to file eraser software. This method involves physically destroying the complete drive and not selective files making the device unusable. It is not an environmentally sustainable solution.
So, which method is the most secure? Using file eraser software seems the most viable option given device reusability, sustainability, and secure erasure. With it, you can be sure that your data is completely gone, and there’s no way for anyone to recover it.
Choosing The Best File Eraser Software
Many file eraser software are available in the market, but it can be challenging to determine the best one. When choosing a file eraser program, you should consider its features, ease of use, price, and the data wiping standards it follows the certification it generates. Some file eraser programs are more comprehensive, offering more options for securely erasing files. Others are more user-friendly, making them easier to use. A few examples of File Eraser software are:
- BitRaser File Eraser: It supports over 18 global data overwriting standards like NIST 800-88 or DoD 3 or 7 passes to ensure files are erased permanently. The software also includes a scheduler to automate the process of secure file deletion at regular intervals. Moreover, BitRaser File Eraser does a logical drive erasure without affecting applications and OS files. The software offers cloud connectivity as an option to save reports and erasure certificates centrally in the cloud console, providing easy accessibility. As a result, the software is a highly secure and popular option rated as the best by many media houses. It can be installed on Windows and Mac OS platforms.
- Eraser: It is an open-source advanced data eraser software that allows the erasure of sensitive data from the hard drive. It has the limitation of performing erasure according to 3 erasure standards, including the US DoD 5220.22-M. It works with Windows operating system only. The tool does not provide an audit trail.
- Moo0 File Shredder: It helps you permanently erase files by dragging and dropping them. The software supports only 4 erasure methods. It does not generate a certificate of erasure. With limited usage functionality on Windows OS only, it is not advisable to use this tool.
- Hardwipe: It is a file and drive wipe software that is available free of cost for individual use. It supports several data sanitization methods like GOST R 50739-95, DOD 5220.22-M, Schneier, and Gutmann. In addition, it can wipe internal drives and portable media. However, it does not provide any proof of destruction.
Erasing files is not as simple as hitting the delete button, especially if you want to ensure they are gone for good. A freely available DIY tool can recover deleted files easily. However, using a secure file eraser tool, it is possible to erase files so they can never be recovered. Protecting your data and the data of your customers is your responsibility; it is best to choose an option that gives you value for money and guarantees secure data wiping, ensuring that all sensitive information remains safe.