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Not so Fast! Why Your Deleted Files May Still Be on Your Hard Drive

March 31st is World Backup Day! Just as important as having a plan in place to backup your data is having a way to recover your files. Do you have a way to restore files that get lost, corrupted, or accidentally deleted? To highlight this need, we want to explain how a deleted file can actually be recovered.

When you send a file to the Recycle Bin and select “Empty Recycle Bin,” your file is deleted and it’s gone for good, right? Even though it seems like this is the case, the real story of what happens to deleted data is a bit more complicated. Actually, your deleted files are still on your PC and it takes additional measures to truly delete them.

Granted, you will have to go through a lot of trouble in order to access one of these “deleted” files, however, the fact that the file is still accessible should be enough to raise some eyebrows. Now, we’re not accusing you of trying to delete anything incriminating, but if you did, know that just selecting “Empty Recycle Bin” isn’t enough to get you off the hook. Actually, law enforcement officials and detectives know this full well, which is why you’ll often see them carting off computers from a crime scene.

Part of the reason of why this is, comes from the fact that dragging one file to a new location, like the Recycle Bin, or even another file folder, doesn’t move every single piece of data associated with that file to the desired folder. Instead, it just redirects the computer as to where to access the data, which can often be scattered across several different places on the physical hard drive.

TechQuickie explains how this works:

The way your operating system knows where to find all the pieces [of your data] is… through the reference to it on the Master File Table. So back to deleting stuff, removing a file from the Recycle Bin, only removes the Master File Table reference that points to the pieces that make up that file puzzle, and registers that space that it used to take up as “empty.” This gives the operating system permission to write over it, but that does not mean that, right after you clean out your Recycle Bin, that the file is gone. Not by a long shot.

Going back to our example of deleting an incriminating file, if a criminal were to delete the evidence off of their PC and then immediately go out and commit the associated crime without having done any additional activity on their PC, then that information is still on their PC and has yet to be written over. Detectives have special programs, allowing them to access and piece together these deleted-yet-still-present files which are still scattered across a hard drive.

Using this same logic, this is why it’s so crucial that you get your hard drive in the hands of an IT professional like the techs at SemTech IT Solutions as soon as you experience data loss. Depending on how bad of a disaster you just experienced, we might be able to use these same tools that detectives use in order to piece together files that you feared were gone for good. Of course, we can’t make any guarantees, depending on the nature of the disaster.

A much better way to recover data after a disaster is to revert to a recent backed up copy. This is why routinely backing up your company’s data is so important, and why we recommend that every organization backs up their files using a Backup and Disaster Recovery solution. It’s the guaranteed way to recover your data, even after it’s been deleted (whether intentionally or accidentally).

Now that you know what really happens when you delete a file, you may be able to save yourself an anxiety attack the next time you accidentally delete something important. Call SemTech IT Solutions today for more information about recovering deleted files, and how to wipe a hard drive so that you’ll know for sure that the deleted data is gone forever.


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