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Total wipeout

Biswajit.HD

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Unwanted files have become harder to track down over the years, and techniques to hide them have become stronger too. Today, there is need for special software to securely delete data that you want to get rid off for good. In this story we talk about how data on a computer is stored in various ways and places, and about some tools and procedures for getting rid of it for good.


Every computer has data which is created and stored by a user during the course of his work, such as documents, photos and videos. This data is plainly visible, and used relatively often. Another type of data is that which is stored by programs, applications, the Internet and of course the operating system itself, without the user necessarily knowing how, when or where it has been generated. Such files keep piling up in various folders on the hard drive without the users knowing the true extent of it all.

For instance, when installing a program, you may notice its folder residing in the ‘Program Files’ folder, and its icon on your desktop. But tons of other files get stored on the hard drive along with it: DLL files being a good example of that. Even surfing the Internet, typing a simple letter, copying and pasting information and other simple tasks constantly bombard the hard drive. Most of this information is used to boost speed and efficiency or is sent via the Internet in order to track user activity. For instance, temporary internet files and cookies are stored in places that aren’t usually explored by a general user. Cookies generally reveal your online identity and activity.

Here are five utilities that help you delete such superfluous data. Some of them can also permanently delete files that you don't want others to stumble upon. The features across these utilities are more or less the same, with some more powerful than others. We suggest that you take a look at each one briefly and then use whichever suits you best.


CCleaner

This powerful and comprehensive piece of software does some good sweeping. To begin with, it wipes out junk which is stored by Windows applications. Cached data from Internet Explorer such as temporary files, cookies, history, etc, is deleted. Even your list of recent documents, temporary files folder, clipboard, auto-complete entries and much more is erased. That’s just the Windows part. Even garbage dumped onto the hard drive by third party applications is expelled.

CCleaner also scans and fixes registry issues. Unused file extensions, fonts, application paths, obsolete software and many other types of detritus can be cleaned with the ‘Registry Integrity’ utility. Finally with this program, you can also uninstall third party software and get rid of auto-startup items.


Regseeker

Its name may suggest that Regseeker only finds items and entries in the Registry and gets rid of unwanted garbage. Of course it offers the option, but there’s more to it than just that. RegSeeker allows you to erase unwanted registry entries such as startup items, Internet Explorer URL entries and so on. For further cleaning, there are two options: the first one is automatic cleaning and the second one lets you add specific entries to the exclusion list before cleaning. Overall, it’s a useful tool for registry management.


HDCleaner

While boasting a pleasant and intuitive user interface—similar to CCleaner—the HD cleaner too has much to offer in terms of features and performance. And it is free of charge. Its features include almost everything that’s needed to clean and stabilize a computer, such as cleaning temporary files and offline content. This software offers something called ‘Wipe Free Space’. This tool basically deletes data in a way that it becomes completely unrecoverable (also see: ‘Manual Extermination’). To further prevent recovery, it allows shredding of files too.

Other options include a cleaning center which gets rid of cookies, unwanted registry items and software. There’s a drive information panel which does exactly what its name suggests. HDCleaner also allows automatic or scheduled scanning and cleaning of a computer.


TuneUp Utilities 2009

We tested the demo version of TuneUp Utilities 2009, and must say the interface is quite eye-catching. First, the 1-click Maintenance utility is quite interesting. On execution, it automatically scans and analyzes the system for registry problems and invalid shortcuts. It also frees up disk space by deleting unwanted data and temporary files. Finally, it defragments the drive, but this step can be skipped at will by the user since it takes a lot of time.

The main console looks impressive. Interestingly, each utility in the line up is named after the brand ‘TuneUp’, such as TuneUp Drive Defrag and TuneUp Memory Optimizer. There are other tools such as Registry defrag, Speed optimizer, Startup manager, Registry cleaner, Uninstall manager and more. There’s also a Windows customization tool called TuneUp Styler. This one lets you give Windows a compete facelift with new boot and login screens, icon packages, the overall visual style of windows and other such cosmetic changes. All in all, we say this one has beauty and brains!


Vista Cleanman 2.5

Vista Cleanman is capable of cleaning temporary files and other files with extensions such as .old, .bak and picture thumbnail files. Although its feature set is rather scanty, it apes the more popular options, for instance there are options for cleaning the IE temporary files, Windows error reports and such. Even the caches created by third party applications are cleared off. There are a few more options, but overall, this demo package doesn’t impress us very much.


Simple file shredder 3.2

Simple File Shredder is another good utility which is easy to use. It has a number of options and features which assist in deleting data permanently.


The program options include settings for automatic shredding of files, enabling password protection to avoid misuse, and updating the program. The ‘Color Guide’ option helps identify whether a certain file is in use, or whether it is a system file, a read-only file or a hidden file. If you’re looking for a specific file or folder, the search option allows various combinations for narrowing down your search for files intended for shredding. And if you’ve accidentally chosen a file for permanent deletion, choose the ‘Remove selected’ option in the file’s context menu or simply push the [Delete] key.

If you’re looking only to flush the cache, then the ‘Basic Configuration’
mode should suffice. It gets rid of items such as IE's cookies, history and so on. It also deletes Windows’ list of recent documents, the Recycle Bin, and temp files folder. Although the program features 'Advanced Configuration' in the 'System Shredder' panel, the demo version won't have it. One of the options also allows scrubbing the free space on your hard drive so that previously deleted data cannot be recovered from there. It is quite contrarily named ‘Restoration’. However, to use this utility, the program needs to download the ‘Restoration’ setup file from the Internet.


Some troubling signs

Here are some of the symptoms that signal when you need to clean your PC immediately:

The computer becomes ridiculously slow and unresponsive. The ‘Performance’ tab in the Task Manager shows very high or almost 100 percent CPU usage. The RAM usage has also climbed to dizzying levels.

More than 50 percent of processes listed as running in the Task Manager are completely incomprehensible and untraceable too. The reason for the sluggishness may be all these processes running in the background, consuming your computer's resources. If you got your ‘fully loaded’ computer as a gift, it probably came with a lot of unnecessary software preinstalled. Remember, the more the programs you have, the more CPU power and RAM are needed. Uninstall all programs that you use less than once a month. The solution? Uninstall and clean up the traces of all software you don't really require.

Fringe benefits

Along with websites that merely want to give you a better experience, those with malicious intent could be automatically downloading harmful files to your PC. Keep an eye out for suspicious files and use the cleanup utilities regularly.


KNOW MORE

The cache, also known as the Temporary Internet Files folder for Internet Explorer, make surfing speedy. But it also preserves cookies, which by nature are good at compromising online privacy. Cookies are basically footprints, and websites offload them onto your machine. When you revisit a website, it pulls up its cookie to see your previous activity. This helps it to offer you customized information. Unfortunately, a lot of personal information can leak out via these files. Although browsers allow blocking cookies, this makes surfing irritating at times. Therefore a periodic clean-up of offline content is a must. For a good combination of comprehensiveness and efficacy, opt for CCleaner or HDcleaner.


MANUAL EXTERMINATION

Offline content

So much for automatic secure deletion, now, how about applying some basic manual techniques? The best part is manual techniques do not require special software. CHIP introduces our in-house batch file which performs a basic yet useful clean-up. This file is intended for those using Windows Vista with Internet Explorer. On execution, it automatically runs sequential commands. First, it cleans up the browser cache, temporary Internet files folder and such. Then it runs the Windows Disk Cleanup utility and finally, it clears the ‘Recent’ folder. And if you’re comfortable with experimenting, you can even add other commands and programs into the batch file to run them automatically and in sequence. Type the following in a text file and save it with the extension .BAT. You can name it ‘CLEANUP.BAT’. (On the third line, replace ‘Username’ with the actual user name such as ‘CHIP’ on a CHIP computer).
@echo off
Rundll32.exe InetCpl.cpl, ClearMyTracks By Process 255
C:Windowssystem32cleanmgr /sagerun:1
Del /f/s/q c:UsersUsernameAppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsRecent
Tip: In Windows XP, the path for recent documents is C:Documents and Settings UsernameMy Recent Documents



User-saved data

At times, it doesn’t matter how powerful the software for permanent deletion is because data is still recoverable from the hard drive til the emptied sectors are filled with new data. Check out the ‘Wipe Free Space’ tool in HDCleaner.

To wipe the drive manually, fill the emptied space with random data. Dump data which is large enough to fill that space. Defrag the drive while the newly planted data exists. Run a low level format. Repeat the process in various combinations. If you were creative enough and did all the right things then a successful recovery is unlikely. But remember, these methods don’t ensure that data will never be recovered. With special tools and methods, there may still be chances of a recovery. The only foolproof way would be to physically damage the hard drive, which obviously defeats the purpose.


VERDICT
Shredding means overwriting the drive’s sectors with new data so that the deleted data becomes unrecoverable. Basic deletion of files and folders only erases the pointers to the data which still resides on the hard drive or other media after deletion. This data is therefore recoverable. On the other hand, shredding dumps junk data in random patterns onto each sector of a hard drive. Shredding can be done in multiple passes, meaning data is re-written a number of times in various patters.

Be it automatic or manual, keeping your computer clean from unnecessary digital detritus is a must. And if you want good performance from of your computer, you may have to pay special attention in maintaining a regular cleaning schedule.

A computer that hasn’t been cleaned in over a month and also has loads of programs installed will not only make be slower than it should be, but also wastes valuable space. In worse cases, it stresses the CPU and RAM so much that they overheat unnecessarily. Yes, this can happen due to constant and unneeded work. Therefore, keep your PC clean from the dust outside and digital garbage inside. Happy cleaning!

Source : Chip Magazine.
 
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