Deleted files: Gone but Not Forgotten
This post is for all versions of Windows
When you “delete” files they’re not really deleted and they’re not taking up any space either. It’s sort of like they’re in purgatory – between existence and non-existence. Kind of like EB!
Think of your hard drive as a chalk board. When you erase a chalk board, you can’t see what you erased (very well) but somewhere in the slate of the chalk board is everything you’ve ever written on it. But still you can write something new on it.
So it is with your hard drive.
When you “delete” a file, you’re telling Windows that you don’t want that file anymore and telling Windows to use the space that the deleted file once occupied for something else – in other words mark the space available.
Windows says “OK Boss, will do”. Windows shows the space once occupied by that file as “available” which we refer to as free space. If you have free space available on your hard drive you can install a new program or use the space for a new file or a program – you can use it for whatever you want.
Gone, but not forgotten!
However, way down deep on the surface of your hard drive (whether it be SSD or the good old fashioned kind) the file that you deleted is still there. That’s how the FBI and other authorities gather evidence against criminals who think by deleting or formatting their hard drives they can erase any incriminating evidence.
But there is software available that can capture the faintest pieces of deleted files and restore them. There is hardware available that can even extract almost all data from “formatted” hard drives.
If you want to try recovering some deleted files from your hard drive so you can see how deleted doesn’t mean erased, use a program like Recuva to find and restore deleted files from your hard drive. Recuva is free and not nearly as powerful as the forensic software used by authorities, but once you see how many deleted files you can recover by using Recuva you will quickly see that deleting a file does not erase it.
Now if you deleted something in the real world, you’d never get it back. In the cyberworld, deleted doesn’t mean erased. Remember that!
And yes we know all about programs like CCleaner and Eraser – both claim to actually erase deleted files completely. The do this by deleting the files and then over writing it as specified number of times with gibberish making it virtually impossible to recover them. But, don’t stake your life on these programs – the NSA and FBI are very resourceful. OK. I’m being dramatic – erasing files with Eraser, CCleaner or one other programs out there that overwrite free space with gibberish. And unless your hiding something, erasing and overwriting should be plenty good enough to prevent anyone from digging out any personal info. You can also use a command to wipe hard drive free space. See this post.
Be careful using a drive erasing program or the Cipher command if you have an SSD (Solid State Hard Drive).