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What Is Data Erasure?

Marco Sumayao
Marco Sumayao

Data erasure is the act of deleting information from a computer, most usually done to clear space for newer files. Some individuals practice routine file deletion to improve the performance of their computers. Data wiping can also be done for security purposes, especially when the integrity of a system has been compromised by an external party. In this regard, data erasure can be performed to ensure that sensitive information isn't obtained by other individuals. This involves a more thorough type of deletion, as "deleted" files can still be recovered from hard drives with specialized software.

Computer hard drives have a finite amount of space for storing data, making data erasure necessary when the drive can no longer accommodate new information. One common example of this necessity arising is when users try to install new programs into their computers, only to be alerted that the hard drive does not have space to contain the incoming program files. When this occurs, users will need to clear more space by deleting an adequate amount of files from their system.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

Another common cause for data erasure is for maintaining the computer's performance. Many operating systems create temporary files on the hard drive in order to facilitate its operations. If the hard drive is near capacity, this can cause the computer to slow down, deteriorating the computer's performance. Although this rarely occurs among most users, some individuals make it a habit to maintain a certain amount of free space on their hard drives by routinely deleting all temporary files.

The clearing of a hard drive can also be a function of data security. In some cases, a computer can be infected with a malicious virus that either renders the system unusable or illegally transfers information to an unauthorized remote user. If the virus cannot be removed through conventional software means, owners will need to delete any infected files to prevent any further damage. Worst cases scenarios involve reformatting the hard drive, which results in a complete data wipe.

Most, if not all, operating systems offer several insurances against accidental or unauthorized data erasure. Files marked for deletion through normal use, for example, are usually moved to a separate directory from which they can be restored to their original places in the system. Erasing the data from these directories results in its actual deletion.

Most systems, however, do not necessarily clear out the data; instead, the information is marked for over-writing when space on the hard drive is needed. The information can still be taken from the system through the use of data recovery software. In order to completely remove the data from the system, owners will need to use data erasure software that permanently removes all traces of the data.

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