To help readers follow the instructions in this article, we used two different typefaces:
Boldface type is used to identify the names of icons, agendas and URLs.
Sans serif type indicates the names of files and the names of commands and instructions users should type into the computer. Q. I plan to donate my old computer to a volunteer organization, but before I give it up, I want to be sure all its data are safely removed. I’ve heard that just deleting files is not enough to assure privacy. Is that correct? If so, what should I do?
A. That’s right. Deleting a file doesn’t get rid of it; it just erases the identification code that tells a computer where it’s situated on the hard disk. While most users would not be able to resurrect the “deleted” file, anyone with advanced technical knowledge or the right software could do it easily.
There are several things you can do to ensure complete erasure. You can wipe clean the entire hard disk by reformatting it. However, that not only permanently erases all data files, it removes all applications, too—and I assume you want to retain the applications so the volunteer organization that gets your computer won’t have to reinstall them.
The other option is to selectively erase data files. Although Microsoft doesn’t offer a permanent way to do so, there are third-party applications that can handle the job. But be careful: Some are complicated because they were designed for experts, and a too-quick click of a button may wipe away more than your target data files.
I know of two applications that are both effective and easy to use, and one even is free. The free application is Sure Delete. It’s available for download from www.pcworld.com/downloads/file_download/0,fid,22393,fileidx,1,00.asp . As you can see from the screenshot below, its File Cleaner Wizard safely walks you through the steps to erase files.
The other, Norton SystemWorks ( www.symantec.com/sabu/sysworks/basic ), a comprehensive software utility (antivirus and file and disk maintenance), contains a Wipe Info application that also does the job well.