The News & Observer

January 31, 2000

Stump the Geeks

Section: Connect
Edition: Final
Page: D6
Estimated Printed Pages: 2

Index Terms:

Article Type:Letter

Article Text:

Q. I have read that a document, or letter, or cookie, or whatever that I erase from my files is not really erased, but that it lurks somewhere in the bowels of my hard drive. Is that true?

And if so, how can I erase something (an embarrassing letter, for example) so that it is really erased; that is, gone forever? So that not even you geeks could ever recover it?

Hal Richter

Chapel Hill

A. Ask Oliver North! He famously said, "I was told that deleting e-mail meant that it was gone forever." But his e-mail was not gone far. He became the object of a Congressional probe and later, perhaps in response to that that probe, a hawker of flak jackets.

In Ollie's case, his e-mail had been carefully backed up at regular intervals and the back-ups carefully stored. That is one way that your embarrassments can be recovered. This assumes that you are storing your files on a server or on a well-managed network, of course. But then, many of us are in exactly that situation.

In the case of an individual computer not on a network, the files can still be recovered. When you delete a file (or try to delete one), the space on your hard drive or floppy is simply marked as available; the space is not demagnetized so the data remains there until the space is overwritten.

Normally your software will not allow you to access the spaces marked as deleted, but some wonderful utilities like Directory Snoop by Briggs Softworks (, and RecoverNT by Sunbelt Software Distribution, Inc. (available at the same site), will help you and others out. Both are available for free and allow you to recover not only files in the "recycle bin" also but files that have actually been deleted. Directory Snoop has a security feature that will completely wipe out all traces of files for you (or so they say).

Services from companies such as Symantec Data Recovery Service, DriveSavers and others are designed to help you out when you have a disaster, say your computer catches fire or you simply have a disk crash, but they can be used for recovering innocently deleted files as well.

For those seriously interested in complete file removal, I recommend Arnoud "Galactus" Engelfriet's site at and the Electronic Privacy Information Center's tool page at Both will direct you to even more options for your personal security and privacy.

Remember what Winston Smith found out far too late: Nothing written is ever quite gone. Or had Winston not yet realized when he made the discovery that it is good to love Big Brother?

Paul Jones



University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Copyright 2000 by The News & Observer Pub. Co.

Record Number: fp7lwh89