Tossing out that old MicroSD card from your phone? Selling your old laptop but you’re just positive you deleted all your personal photos and videos? Might want to press [Pause] on your plans for a moment. Here’s why:
UPDATE (09/02/2014): The recent hacking of multiple celebrities’ digital storage accounts sheds light on a problem not addressed in this blog: cloud storage. If you are going to use cloud storage for backing up your files, you should do so with caution and make sure that your storage service provider has multiple security redundancies in place to prevent such a hack from happening to you.
(Original Post): Can you honestly say you’ve never done it? Really? You’ve never stepped out of the shower and thought, “I look rather good at the moment….”, grabbed your cellphone and *click*…captured that moment for yourself (or, perhaps, for a loved one)?
It’s okay to admit it, even if only to yourself. But what happens when you hit that shutter release on your camera, cellphone, or built-in laptop cam? Where is that data stored? More to the point of this article, what happens when you think, “Nah…maybe I don’t look so great, after all.”, and hit the [Delete] button? That’s the end of it, right? Well…unfortunately for you, no. And, in this age of instant over-sharing, more and more people – predominantly women and young ladies – are finding this out the hard way when they wake up one morning and find their private pictures being shared online.
When data is created and stored on a drive, the operating system automatically maps a path to that file. After all, you have to be able to tell the computer where to physically retrieve that data from the storage device when you click on the icon, right? An entry is made in the system’s registry and the file is listed in something called the Master File Table. Conversely, when you decide you want to delete a file, the computer basically wipes away the path to that file. Mark that wording: It deletes the PATH to the file, NOT the file, itself. The file remains in the same place it was created but the file’s spot in that Master File Table is now marked as “re-usable”. This means that, as more data is added to the storage device, there’s a good chance that, at some point, that section of the storage device will be over-written.
Take note of those caveats: “good chance” and “at some point”. The overwrite process is not instantaneous. Nor is it even guaranteed on a large storage device where it’s likely a user will not even fill up half of the device’s capacity. It can take quite a bit of time and, sometimes, several actual overwrites of that storage sector – particularly if the file you “deleted” has been stored for a while. We won’t get into all the technical reasons why this is the case, here. It has to do with file indices, registry entries, master file table allocations, etc….Suffice it to say that the lovely image of you in all your birthday suit glory does not, in fact, disappear into history just because you pressed [Delete].
So how do you and your friendly-unmentionables become fodder for unwanted internet attention? Free and user-friendly software such as Recuva is available that, once installed and ran, can scan a storage device’s data, locate files that are still intact – just no longer mapped to the user interface area – and recover those files for easy access. Once that process is done, the original files can be used just as easily as any other file. They can be recovered to any drive or storage device and, more concerning, they can be shared online.
On the other hand, such recovery software can also be quite useful when catastrophe strikes. When your cat finds your keyboard nice and warm and accidentally deletes those work reports you’ve spent days compiling. Or when you break up with your loved one and delete all your cute vacation selfies only to get back together the next day and realize you behaved rashly. These are the kinds of reasons such software was created. However, like all good things, there is always a shadow on the sunniest days. So be careful. When you’re absolutely certain you want to delete data, use a secure deletion tool (a simple Google search will provide you with dozens of great software products for this), and educate your loved ones on this important topic before they simply toss out or give away their data storage devices.
About the Author: Jeremy Jones is the Senior Marketing Strategist for 603 Media Group. Primarily tasked with the challenges of keeping our small business running, Jeremy also occasionally branches out into public speaking, blogging, website design and raising his son to not be another one of “those damn kids”.