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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 Restore Points or Erase Them, Then Disable System Restore

Encrypt WIN386.swp or pagefile.sys or Erase It, Then Disable Virtual Memory

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WARNING: The virtual memory file (called a swap file - WIN386.swp - in Windows 95, 98 and Me, and a page or paging file - pagefile.sys - in Windows 2000 and XP) can contain sensitive private data, such as passswords, etc.

To protect that data, either encrypt your swap or page file with CryptoSwap Guerilla (not recommended! least secure - Microsoft recommends never encrypting individual files), or by encrypting your Windows partition (more secure) or better yet, your whole hard disk drive (even more secure), or, if you have 1GB of RAM (Random Access Memory) or more, securely erase it, then disable virtual memory (most secure).

How to Encrypt Your Partitions or Whole Hard Disk Drive

Note: If you don't use Photoshop, Adobe, 3D games, or other memory-intensive programs, 512MB of RAM may be enough to prevent popup warnings and crashes, but I strongly recommend at least 1GB to be safe.

The swap or page file is inaccessible while Windows is running, but it can be deleted at shutdown (Windows 2000 and XP) or reboot / restart (Windows 95, 98 and Me) or it can be deleted or securely erased either from the DOS or command prompt, or from BartPE or better yet Ultimate Boot CD for Windows, or a GNU/Linux Live CD or DVD.

WARNING: ''There are applications that claim to overwrite swap file contents while Windows is running. They are usually trying to accomplish this by allocating huge amounts of memory and hoping that the operating system will write it to the disk (overwriting previous data).''

''Doing this may even prove to decrease security instead of increasing it - instead of flushing the memory allocated by the overwriting program to the swap file, Windows may as well decide to save the memory allocated by some other application to the disk, possibly causing sensitive data that otherwise would have remained in the memory to end up on your drive.''

''And even if the user is real lucky and everything goes as planned, the data currently allocated in the swap file still cannot (and will not) be accessed.'' - Heidi Computers Ltd.

WARNING: You can set Windows XP to clear (delete or zero out) the page file at shutdown or reboot / restart, but this does not securely erase it.

Note: Setting Windows XP to clear the page file at shutdown or reboot / restart will cause Windows XP to take longer to shut down; long enough that you may think shutdown has hung. It'll also clear the hibernation file at shutdown.

To set it in Eraser (not recommended), start Eraser, or if it's already running, make sure its window is selected by clicking on its border. Then press Ctrl and P to show the general settings. Now click on the box next to ''Enable clearing of page file (swap) at shutdown'' to put a check in it, and select OK.

To set it in XP-AntiSpy (not recommended), start XP-AntiSpy, and under ''Miscellaneous Settings,'' check ''Clear pagefile at shutdown.''

To securely erase the page file at shutdown or reboot / restart, click on Scheduler in Eraser and create a task for it. When creating the task, select the Schedule tab in Task Properties, and select Reboot (the last option on the list).

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Encrypt hiberfil.sys or Erase It, Then Disable Hibernation Mode

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WARNING: On an unencrypted Windows partition, putting your computer on hibernation mode, a temporary shutdown feature in Windows that's a deeper version of sleep than standby mode, is a security risk, even if you encrypt private files, because it saves all the contents of your PC's memory, which might contain plaintext of encrypted files, onto your hard drive, which are then easily accessible to prying eyes.

So if you must put your computer on hibernation mode, be sure to encrypt your Windows partition (least secure) or your whole hard drive (fairly secure).

Otherwise, find hiberfil.sys, a hidden system file on each partition, that Windows saves your data in before going into hibernation mode. Right-click on it and select Erase. Eraser will then securely erase the hibernation file. Then disable hibernation.

How to Disable Hibernation Mode in Windows XP

  1. Click Start, click Run, type cmd and then click OK.
  2. At the command prompt, type the following command, and then press Enter:
    • powercfg /h or powercfg /hibernate

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