If you want to get rid of data, then you just need to delete it, right? Well, it depends on what you really want to achieve. Deleting your data may mean that you can no longer see it when you look for files on your hard drive but it does not necessarily mean you have erased the data entirely. The trouble is that terms like erase, wipe and delete are all used interchangeably and they are not – strictly speaking – the same thing.
So, if you are just clearing up a few shortcut icons on your desktop or you want to replace a template with a new one, deleting may be all you need to do. If, on the other hand, you want to destroy data so it cannot be accessed once more by anyone, then you will need to go a step further and wipe it entirely.
What Is Data Deletion?
When you delete a file it doesn't 'go' anywhere. Even if you delete it from your recycle bin so you cannot get at it once more, it is still there on your hard drive. True, it is harder to access than if you hadn't deleted it but to a hacker, deleted files are relatively easy to get at. Think of deletion as a user's function. Wiping is an altogether more professional one.
What Is Data Wiping?
The way in which data is written to hard drives means that it is quite hard to get rid of. If you think about it, then you'll soon realise that hard drive manufacturers have striven for decades to provide people with dependable products which can take a bit of abuse but still come up with the data they're holding when required. As such, some hard drives write their digital data in surprising ways.
You may save a file in one location on your directory, for example, but the hard drive which physically holds all the ones and zeroes associated with it could spread them out far and wide over the drive itself. This means that if one part becomes damaged or corrupted in some way, all of the file is not lost. What's more clever data processing algorithms can even piece together a file that has been partially corrupted.
So, if you want to remove all traces of a file or a program, then you shouldn't merely delete it or uninstall it but wipe it. This means every part of the hard drive in question needs to be processed – something that simply doesn't happen when you hit the delete button. Wiping is not just a question of finding all the digital data converting them to unreadable ones and zeroes but of doing so several times. This way, even highly sophisticated algorithms cannot convert wiped hard drives back to their previous states by reversing the wiping process. In short, wiping keeps criminals at bay whereas deleting simply won't.
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