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How to Securely Erase Private Data

Contents

Crucial Steps You Need To Take Before Typical After-Work Erasing With Eraser

CAUTION: Reading the following steps carelessly could cause you to disable your system and / or lose data you want to keep. So be sure to read them carefully.

Previous Step: Encrypt or Erase Backups, Disable Autosave Backups and RAID and Uninstall Unerase Software

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WARNING: If your hard drive or drives and inserted or connected removable media contain private data, the index that a desktop search software program creates after scanning everything on your accessible storage media, contains copies of your private data, and makes them easy to find after a quick search.

And the index that web-based, personalized search services create as you provide personal preferences and other personal information, search for keywords and click on links, contains a history of that data.

''Google maintains a lifetime cookie that expires in 2038, and records the user's IP address. But more recently it has begun to integrate services which record the user's personal search history, email, shopping habits, and social contacts.''

''If search history, e-mail and registration information were combined, a company could see intimate details about a person's health, sex life, religion, financial status and buying preferences.'' - Elinor Mills, CNET news.com

''After first promising not to tie its [Gmail] email service to its search service, Google went ahead and opted its users in anyway. It's all part of CEO Eric Schmidt's promise to create a 'Google that knows more about you.' '' - Andrew Orlowski, theregister.co.uk

''It's only a matter of time before...attorneys realize that a person's entire search history is available for the asking, and the subpoenas begin to fly. This could happen in civil lawsuits or criminal prosecutions.''

''If the Electronic Communications Privacy Act does not apply, all that's required is a subpoena from a prosecutor, and no prior approval from a judge is necessary. [''...in many cases you wouldn't even be notified in time to challenge it.'' - eff.org] One Harvard law professor calls the subpoena power 'akin to a blank check.' - Declan McCullagh, zdnet.com

Fake Google Toolbars Go Phishing

''Don't install ANY toolbars. None. Not one. I don't care how 'convenient' they are, if you care at all about privacy, toolbars are forbidden.''

''If you're one of those folks complaining about privacy issues and you have the Google toolbar installed, or the Alexa toolbar installed, you are a hypocrite. ;) You've given up a portion of your privacy willingly for the sake of convenience.'' - Dean Bloomfield, a.k.a. DigitalGhost

If you have private data on your hard drive, I strongly recommend either encrypting the search index, the partition it's on or your whole hard drive (fairly secure), disable indexing of private folders and files and certain websites (more secure), or securely erasing the search index and uninstalling your desktop search software (most secure).

If you also don't want your Web searches, site visits and possibly also your email to be indexed, I strongly recommend deleting its search index in your personalized search account and not using either its personalized search or its email service, or both, any more.

There are many different desktop search software and personalized search services, so I'll only list erasing instructions for Google's and Yahoo!'s search software and services here.

  1. Check your desktop search's, personalized service's and / or search toolbar's help file or forum for indexing or autocomplete options and disable them, if enabled, or for the location of its search index or autocomplete data and securely erase it or them. skip
  2. Securely erase search engine cookies either every time after closing your browser (fairly secure) or once and then, as part of step 1: Secure Windows and Your Data, block them with your browser's cookie settings if you can, or with a separate cookie manager. skip
  3. Use one of the following anonymous search software or web-based services.

Why IP Address Logging is [Now] a Big Deal

''The way serious people protect their web-searching privacy [and prevent profiling] is through anonymization.'' - Bruce Schneier on Security, schneier.com

Anonymization Software and Services

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Privacy Risks of Desktop Search Software

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Secure Erasing Guide


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