Deleting Data from a Device: Is it really gone?

We’ve all had to delete data from our devices, whether the plan was to sell or just dispose of them.  Of course, we try to remove all confidential information, pictures, emails and files so that they cannot be accessed by someone else and when we permanently delete the data files, we typically empty the recycle bin to ensure that they have been removed. But is it all really gone?

The answer is a definitive no.  According to Webopedia, “Files that are moved to the recycle bin (on PCs) or the trash can (on Macs) stay in those folders until the user empties the recycle bin or trash can. Once they have been deleted from those folders, they are still located in the hard drive and can be retrieved with the right software.” The Windows NT file system contains a file called the Master File Table or MFT which acts as a directory for every file on your computer.  So when you delete a file, you are actually deleting the reference to the data in the MTF.  Emptying the recycle bin does not delete the data; the file still exists but the computer is not aware of it because the reference has been removed.  Not until the space where the old reference has been overwritten will the data no longer be retrievable.

Reasons why your data really isn’t gone:

  1. Speed – Emptying the recycle bin takes very little time because the data is not being removed -only the reference gets deleted.
  2. Data Safety – This protects you from yourself, as long as the data has not been overwritten the MFT reference can be recreated and then the data can be retrieved.

So in order to truly remove all data from your devices, you need to delete the data to the best of your knowledge and then overwrite the old data with new random data.  This process may need to be done several times depending upon the size of the drive.  Secure deletion software can also be downloaded or purchased to help you overwrite it.

Chris Hoffman of PCWorld writes, “Definitely deleted: How to guarantee your data is truly gone before recycling old PCs and drives,” a step-by-step list to follow. Hoffman covers protection for a PC, external hard drive, USB stick, and more by listing free tools that any user can implement on their devices.

On the other hand, if you are not planning on using the device again, you could physically destroy it.  This will ensure that your data cannot be restored.  Otherwise, it is important to take the proper steps in deleting your data to ensure that personal identifiable information (PII) or data is not recovered.  Let’s face it, when it comes to your personal devices, the extra effort to make sure your deleted data is truly gone is truly worth it.

For organizations looking to delete information, Sherpa can help. Altitude IG can assess what data is being retained and where it is located while analyzing trends within the vast array of data across numerous content sources. Find out what information is hiding in your organization to help you make informed information governance decisions on retention policies and eDiscovery. With Altitude IG, you’ll learn about:

  • Data Mapping
  • Locating File Types
  • Conducting Trend Analysis
  • Highlighting ROT Data
  • Reclaiming Storage Space

Go to our website or contact a Sherpa expert today.

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