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Are You Sure Your Computer’s Recycle Bin Is Really Empty?

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Published On: October 25, 2018 by Blake Schwank

There are a lot of misconceptions about the Recycle Bin in computers. Most people think that when they drop something in and empty it, that the contents are completely erased. This isn’t true.

So, what’s really going on with the Recycle Bin? And what should you do to make sure the contents are completely erased?

When you drop a document into your computer’s Recycle Bin, you can see that it’s stored there. To remove it you need to clear out the recycle bin.

The document is completely gone now, right?… Wrong

When you clear out the Recycle Bin all that really happens is that you freed up space in your computer that the item was using. This also tells your computer that the document is no longer important and doesn’t need to be saved.

Does this mean the document can still be recovered?… Yes – at least up to the point when your computer resaves over the deleted file. Just because you put something in the Recycle Bin and clear it out doesn’t mean that the contents are gone.

A Real-World Example

When you throw a piece of paper into the trash can under your desk, it’s still going to sit there. Someone can come along and take it out of the trash can.

The next step would be to take it to the dumpster. Yet, it can still be retrieved from here as well.

But once the garbage truck comes along, empties the dumpster, and takes the contents to the landfill, you can now rest easy that the piece of paper is gone.

Remember that everything that was in your computer’s Recycle Bin is still available until you clear it out AND rewrite over it with new data.

How Do You Rewrite Over Documents To Ensure They Are Really Gone?

If you’re selling your old computer or giving it to another person, you need to make sure your data is completely gone and can’t be retrieved with software.

If you use a Windows computer, you should delete the contents from File Explorer. If you use a Mac delete them from the Finder.

The next step is to clear out the Recycle Bin (Trash in a Mac).

Now it’s time to overwrite the document, or you’re leaving the information vulnerable to theft.

How Do You Overwrite Documents If Your Computer Has A Mechanical Hard Drive (HDD)?

To be sure that you’re using an HDD (Hard Disk Drive), check the specifications of your computer. Data on HDDs are stored closely together so it’s easy to recover.

To completely remove the contents, you need to use a third-party program like Eraser for Windows or File Shredder for Apple Computers. These programs will overwrite the space left on your drive with random data. Once you do this, your original document can’t be recovered.

How Do You Overwrite Documents If Your Computer Has A Solid State Drive (SDD)?

Most Apple laptops use SSD storage which is faster than HDDs. However, you won’t have the same control over where your data is written. Because of this, instead of writing over deleted files you need to encrypt the SSD.

When you do this, you’ll create a username and password to unencrypt the drive when needed. Your data will be safe from others as long as you keep your password and username private. This means that others won’t be able to recover your erased documents.

File Vault Encrypts Files On A Mac

Macs have a program called FileVault that provides built-in encryption. Here’s what to do.

  • Open System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault.
  • Turn FileVault on.
  • It may take a while for the encryption to take place.
  • Once complete, your deleted files will be inaccessible to anyone unless they have your username and passcode.

How To Encrypt Files On Windows 10 Devices

You can use the built-in BitLocker tool but only if you use Windows 10 Pro (look for it from your taskbar). If you use the Windows 10 home system, you can encrypt files with a third-party software such as VeraCrypt.

How Do You Permanently Delete Files?

If you’re selling your computer and want to permanently delete all of your files rather than encrypting them, you’ll have to erase your computer contents and reinstall the operating system. This securely wipes all the data from your computer.

Be sure to back up all of your data to another computer before you do this!

Note: If you’re using an online backup service your important files should be stored safely so you can import them into your new computer.

How To Erase A Hard Disk Drive (HDD)

You can do this with a data destruction program like DBAN, PC Disk Eraser or CBL Data Shredder. Just follow the directions the application provides.

How To Erase A Solid State Drive (SDD)

The programs you use to erase an HDD won’t work on an SDD. Try using a utility like Parted Magic which is a complete disk management solution.

If you need more information about overwriting data or wiping your computer drive clean, contact the team at Colorado Computer Support. We’re always here to help.

Did you like this article? Then check out others on Our Blog. Here are a few to get you started:

The New Windows 10 Release and the Features It Will Be Dropping

Have You Checked Out the Early Version of the New Outlook on the Web?

How Can I Optimize My Wi-Fi?

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