Abort-Retry-Fail: Keeping personal data personal

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By Bill Gregory

The time has finally come. That great computer that you bought five years ago is starting to show its age. It seems sluggish and slow, won't run some of the newer programs because it doesn't have enough memory (RAM) and you have already added all you can. So you finally bite the bullet and buy a new replacement. You get your new computer home and transfer all of your data files from the old computer to the new one.

So, what do you do with the old computer now?

You could keep it as a backup or give it to the kids or grandkids. Or you could donate it to a school, library or an organization like Goodwill. But what about those personal files? You did delete them all, didn't you? If you did, you probably feel pretty secure.


The problem with deleting files is that you don't really delete the file; you delete its entry in the directory.

The directory is like a phone book for a disk (hard disk, floppy disk, flash disk or memory stick, etc.). It is a list of all files recorded on the media, where they are located, the file size, etc. By deleting the file's directory listing, the operating system can no longer find the file and considers the space it had occupied as free space, ready to be overwritten by a new file.

There is one misconception about removing data from hard drives. Many people believe that if you re-initialize the disk, by running the utility "fdisk.com," and re-format the disk, it will remove all data from the disk. In reality these steps will make it difficult to recover the data, but not impossible. For most users, this process will do the trick. If you are especially concerned about your personal information on that old hard disk, and who isn't these days, you will need to overwrite every sector of the disk with "garbage" data. The most used "garbage" data is the binary group "10101010" followed by "01010101." Each of those groups of binary data makes up one byte. Since there are at least 512 bytes in each sector of a media, you would be one busy person trying to fill up your media with one, then the other. Fortunately there is an easier solution.

The folks at Lsoft Technologies, Inc., have a solution called "Active@KillDisk." This software solution is available in two versions: the free version, which is more than adequate for the home or small business user and the professional version, for corporate users. The professional version complies with Department of Defense standard 5220.22 M and will set you back $40 to $60, depending on the capabilities you select.

The software is very easy to use. Just install it on your computer, start it up and use the program to create a bootable media (floppy disk, CD, etc.). Boot from this newly created media and follow the instructions on the screen. If you are in a situation where you have a number of computers to "clean," the bootable media can be configured to run automatically.

You can find "Active@KillDisk" on the Internet at http://www.killdisk.com.