The computer hard drive is a gold mine of personal information that one might not even knows exists. It stores temporary Internet files and traces of unnecessary personal information like credit card numbers, passwords, previously deleted material, e-mails etc. While this is done to make common tasks run faster, it leaves private information at risk. These bits of private information stay on the hard drive, unless one actually makes an effort to get rid of them.
Windows, along with other applications, leave internet activities of people in the open. If a virus, Trojan horse, hacker or some unscrupulous web site notices this, they can steal this valuable private information. CBS News reports there is one identity theft every 79 seconds. To protect oneself, it is important to permanently remove all surfing history, individual files, and unnecessary clutter on a regular basis.
It is possible to remove the temporary files forever, manually, or with the help of specialized software programs. Besides providing added security, deleting unwanted files will help to solve problems like insufficient space on the hard drive, a slow running system, corrupted System Restore points, or System Restore points not being created. Below are five tips for cleaning up the hard drive.
1. The internet browser keeps a history of every site visited and this history can be retrieved by the websites visited or by individuals using the same computer. To keep surfing habits private, it is a good idea to remove this information from the hard drive periodically. This can be done by opening Internet Explorer and locating “tools” on the menu bar found on the upper part of the screen. Open the tab by left-clicking the “tools” tab and several commands appear. Just left-click the “delete browsing history” command and the history is erased.
2. Besides taking up a lot of space, the temporary Internet files store information about who the visitor is and the sites visited in files called cookies or cached files. The computer will even record the places someone has gone in the history file of the computer. To maintain privacy, this information has to be deleted. For Windows 98 or later, just click Start, go to Programs, then Accessories, System Tools and finally Disk Cleanup. Normally, the information is stored in C:, if not choose the correct drive, check the boxes that need to be deleted, and then click the delete option.
3. Everyone knows that just deleting a file will take it into the trash bin from where it can be recovered easily. It is a typical misconception that by emptying the trash bin, that information is gone for good. Well, not quite! By emptying the trash bin, only the record of the file’s existence has been eliminated. The file is still there somewhere on the hard drive and it can be recovered by someone who knows how these things work. The only way to permanently erase a file is to either overwrite it or have the hard drive cleaned with a utility. A cheaper way of permanently deleting files is to empty the recycle bin and then to run the Disk Defragmenter found in the Start menu located under Accessories/System Tools. Running this built-in tool will re-arrange a majority of the files found on the hard drive. In so doing, it will most probably overwrite the files that need to be deleted.
4. Some applications, like Microsoft Word, Excel, and many others, make auto save files which can be recovered in case of a computer crash. Frequently, these start with a tilde (~) and are exact copies of the saved information. Since many of these files are saved without the knowledge of the operator, it is a good idea to remove such files. There are several programs available that work with Windows. All that has to be done is run the program and set to automatically delete these or any other files on a regular basis.
5. Windows stores files by assigning them groups of blocks of bytes or clusters; if a file does not to take up all of the blocks assigned to it, then the leftover space is called free space. While that space is free from a current file, information from a previous file that was assigned to this space is still there and it may contain sensitive information that can be accessed. It is important to remove this free space. There are many software programs available which can eliminate this free space by overwriting it.