When you simply delete a file and remove it from your PC’s Recycle Bin, that file is far from being actually deleted and can be quite easily retrieved using software. In fact these files could be recovered using free software; maybe I should make that my next article. Many of us have a great deal of personal and confidential information on our computers and to have such data so easily accessible even after “deletion” is simply unacceptable. Luckily this data can be made virtually destroyed by being overwritten repeatedly. It is true that with advanced enough equipment, the measures carried out by the software reviewed here today could be circumvented. However, if someone is out to get a hold of your confidential information so badly that they would be willing to go to such lengths and expense to purchase such equipment maybe this is not the article for you.
Please bear in mind that the general rule is that the more passes or times a secure eraser overwrites a file, the least likely it is to be recovered. However please note that in many cases one or two passes will suffice. Also, please note that in this article I use the terms ‘file shredding algorithm’ and ‘erasure method’ interchangeably. When I use these terms I am simply referring to the method of overwriting files which was utilized.
With that being said, all of the software reviewed here today securely erase any sensitive files by overwriting such information several times thus making it inaccessible to the average user. I present to you our pick of the best free secure erasers available for Windows.
Table of Contents
- Best Free Secure File Eraser
- Runner Up
- Honorable Mention 1
- Honorable Mention 2
- Honorable Mention 3
- Other Alternatives
Program Name: Heidi’s Eraser
Developer: Heidi Computers
Download Size: 8.0MB
Version Reviewed: 220.127.116.1138
Requires: Windows 95/NT/98/Me/2000/XP/Vista/7/8
- Can securely erase files and entire drives/partitions and folders
- Can securely delete (wipe) free space
- Extremely easy to use — adds an entry in right-click context menu for easy access
- Is fast (relatively speaking)
- If a file cannot be deleted immediately, the file is deleted upon reboot
- Allows users to choose from a variety of erasure methods:
- Allows users to define custom erasure methods
- Allows users to schedule erasures
- Is portable
- Is “always on” — starts itself on Windows boot and is set by default to minimize to system tray when you X out the main program window. You can disable the minimize to system tray behavior but there appears to be no setting to disable the start-at-Windows-boot behavior.
Eraser is a powerful security tool which offers users the choice of several erasure methods which can be used to safely erase sensitive information.
Eraser offers users twelve different methods for the safe removal of data which are outlined in the table in the table below. Depending on the nature of the data users may feel the need to employ a more or less rigorous method and Eraser gives users more than enough options; even allowing for the creation of custom erasure methods. Simply right click the Default Erasure Methods and PRNGs plugin under Settings and you will be able to specify these custom erasure methods from there. Eraser also allows for the replacement of erased data with files of the user’s choice so as to allow for plausible deniability. The methods utilized are as follows:
|Gutmann Method||35||An overwrite session consists of a lead-in of four random write patterns, followed by patterns 5 to 31 (see rows of table below), executed in a random order, and a lead-out of four more random patterns.|
|Pseudorandom Data||1||The fastest wiping scheme. Your data is overwritten with random data (if you use a CSPRNG the data is indistinguishable from random noise.)|
|British HMG IS5 (Baseline) (1 pass)||1||Your data is overwritten with zeroes.|
|Russian GOST P50739-95||2||GOST P50739-95 wiping scheme calls for a single pass of zeroes followed by a single pass of random data|
|British HMG IS5 (Enhanced)||3||British HMG IS5 (Enhanced) is a three pass overwriting algorithm: first pass – with zeroes, second pass – with ones and the last pass with random data.|
|US Army AR380-19||3||AR380-19 is data wiping scheme specified and published by the U.S. Army. AR380-19 is three pass overwriting algorithm: first pass – with random data, second with a random byte and the third pass with the complement of the 2nd pass|
|US Department of Defense DoD 5220.22-M (E)||3||DoD 5220.22-M (E) is a three pass overwriting algorithm: first pass – with zeroes, second pass – with ones and the last pass – with random data|
|US Air Force 5020||3||US Air Force 5020 is a three pass overwriting algorithm with the first pass being that of a random byte, followed by two passes of complement data (shifted 8 and 16 bits right respectively)|
|US Department of Defense DoD 5220.22-M(ECE)||7||DoD 5220.22-M(ECE) is seven pass overwriting algorithm: first, fourth and fifth pass with a random byte, its 8 right-bit shift complement and 16 right-bit shift complement; second and sixth passes with zeroes, and third and seventh pass with random data|
|Canadian RCMP TSSIT OPS-II||7||RCMP TSSIT OPS-II is a seven pass overwriting algorithm with three alternating patterns of zeroes and ones and the last pass – with a random byte|
|German VSITR||7||The German standard calls for data to be overwritten with three alternating patterns of zeroes and ones and in the last pass with random data|
|Schneier’s Algorithm||7||The Bruce Schneier algorithm has seven passes: first pass – with ones, the second pass – with zeroes and then five times with random data|
Random Data vs. Random Byte: Random data is continually generated, a random byte is a randomly generated number, and that number is repeated throughout the pass.
This powerful program allows users to securely move files and folders to various locations, as well as allowing for the secure removal of files, folders, files in the Recycle Bin, secure overwriting of unused disk space as well as the secure erasure of an entire hard drive or partition.
Some of the methods utilized will no doubt take some time to complete and you may not want to sit around waiting for your tasks to be completed. Luckily Eraser allows users to schedule their erasures at any time which bests suits their needs.
To sum up Eraser offers users powerful functionality but in a very straightforward manner and you can have the peace of mind that your data has been safely removed without having to use any particularly sophisticated equipment.
Program Name: Privazer
Download Size: 4.7MB
Version Reviewed: 1.12
Requires: Windows XP/Vista/7/8
Privazer is an advanced security tool which offers users several features from securely erasing files to removing internet histories from web browsers and cleaning your registry.
In addition to allowing users to securely erase files, Privazer allows you to clean traces of internet activity, clean residual traces of old files, clean traces of software use and as a result this allows you to gain free space as well as to keep your PC secure. It allows for the cleaning of office software(Microsoft Office, Open Office, Libre Office), the cleaning of photo/image software histories, the removal of thumbnail caches, auto complete histories in web browsers, Microsoft Games histories –for those of you who play games at work haha–, removal of unnecessary files left over from windows updates and removal of the hibernation feature which takes up a lot of space on one’s hard drive. Privazer also allows for the deletion of traces of programs from your RAM. Users can carry out all of these activities at once in an in-depth scan or select them individually if preferred, thus taking a much shorter amount of time.
Of course Privazer also allows you to securely erase files and folders of your choice and makes use of the following erasure methods:
British HMG IS5, Baseline Standard
Overwritten with zeroes with verification
British IS5, Enhanced Standard
3 passes overwriting algorithm: 1st pass – with zeroes, 2nd pass – with ones and the last pass with random bytes (last pass is verified).
Russian GOST P50739-95
Calls for a single pass of zeroes followed by a single pass of random byte.
German Federal Office for Information Security
Non-uniform pattern, its complement.
US Navy NAVSO P-5239-26
3 passes overwriting algorithm with last pass verification.
USA DoD 5220.22-M Department of Defense
3 passes overwriting algorithm: 1st pass – with zeroes, 2nd pass – with ones and the last pass with random bytes. With all passes verification.
|Canada Communications Security Establishment ITSG-06|
|All 1s or 0s, its complement, a pseudo-random pattern|
Calls for each sector to be overwritten with three alternating patterns of zeroes and ones and in the last pass with character.
Bruce Schneier’s Algorithm
7 passes: 1st pass – with ones, 2nd pass – with zeroes and then 5 times with random characters.
Canadian RCMP TSSIT OPS-II
7 passes overwriting algorithm with 3 alternating patterns of zeroes and ones and the last pass – with random character (with last pass verification)
Peter Gutmann’s Algorithm
35 passes with various algorithms, including all of the other listed methods.
Privazer offers users several additional features — in addition to its secure erasing features – which are quite similar to what one would find with a ‘tune-up’. This is an added bonus. It also offers users many of the same erasure methods which are found in Eraser.
However in terms of its secure eraser functionality, Eraser offers users a far more customizable experience in terms of specifically safely removing sensitive information and this is an article covering the best free secure eraser for Windows after all.
Despite not having erasure options which are as customizable as those of Eraser, Privazer is no doubt a great program which offers additional functionality that users of the program are bound to find useful.
Program Name: Secure-Eraser
Download Size: 4.0MB
Version Reviewed: 4.201
Requires: Windows XP/2003/Vista/Server 2008/7/8
Yet another excellent secure eraser; Secure-Eraser offers 5 familiar file shredding algorithms as well as a system cleaning options which allows for the system cleaning of temporary and user-specific files.
The file shredding algorithms which were examined previously are as follows:
- US DoD 5220.22-M E
- German Standard
- US DoD 5220.22-M ECE
- Peter Gutmann Standard
As expected of a great secure eraser program, Secure-Eraser allows for the deletion of free space and allows for the removal of file names of deleted files out of the selected drive’s Master File Table. Secure-Eraser also allows for the overwriting of ‘slackspace’ of existing files to remove old file fragments. Additionally Secure-Eraser allows for secure drive/partition deletion and for the clearing of the USN Change Journal if it is active; this applies only to NTFS drives only.
One more extra feature is the registry cleaning function.
Secure-Eraser is no doubt an excellent program and will protect your privacy.
Program Name: Hardwipe
Developer: Big Angry Dog
Download Size: 5.7MB
Version Reviewed: 2.1.0
Requires: Windows XP/Vista/7/8
Hardwipe is a powerful secure eraser with the ability to safely remove both files and also securely wipe entire drives or overwrite free space.
Hardwipe is capable of making use of 6 different erasure methods or shredding algorithms some of which will by now be familiar to you after examining Eraser and Privazer.
- Zero Overwrite( 1 pass )
- Random Overwrite( 1 pass )
- GOST R 50739-95( 2 pass )
- DoD 5220.22-M( 3 pass )
- Schneier( 7 pass )
- Gutmann( 35 pass )
Hardwipe also makes use of a verification pass and makes sure that users confirm that they do intend to wipe their drives on selecting that option. This powerful program also allows for the adjustment of its error tolerance as well as the speed at which the erasing process is carried out.
However, it effectively makes sure that your confidential information is adequately protected.
Program Name: File Shredder
Developer: File Shredder
Download Size: 2.20MB
Version Reviewed: 2.5
Requires: Windows 7, Windows 2003, Windows 2000, Windows 8, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows NT, Windows Server 2008
File Shredder is a simple to use program which offers users 5 powerful shredding algorithms which effectively allow for the overwriting of sensitive information.
File Shredder is easy to use but offers some advanced functionality through the following 5 shredding algorithms:
- Simple One Pass
- Simple Two Pass
- DoD 5220-22.M
- Secure erasing algorithm with 7 passes
- Gutmann Algorithm with 35 passes
File Shredder is quite effective at doing its job as it uses powerful erasure methods. However, it does not offer secure erasure of an entire drive and it is not as customizable as Eraser or Privazer.
Despite lacking some of the functionality of our top two picks, File Shredder is more than capable of protecting your sensitive information.