Getting to know Eraser 6

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Read this even if you don’t want to read the manual

Who this post is for
This post is for anyone who has just installed Eraser 6 for the first time, including previous users of Eraser 5. If you have just opened the Eraser program, and don’t know what to do next, close the program and read this first. You may be able to do what you want without opening the program at all. There is also a really good basic introduction to Eraser with screen shots here.

A warning before we begin
Eraser has one purpose, and one purpose only: to destroy data and put it beyond recovery. Only the user can decide what data should be destroyed, so the program must always be used with very great care. Think twice (or three times) and erase once should be every Eraser user’s motto.

Preliminary information

This note is based on the current stable release ( Development builds, which are not intended for normal use, may vary in some respects. If you are using an earlier build than 6.0.10, you are strongly advised to upgrade.

The post does not replace the full user manual, which can be accessed by opening the Eraser Program and clicking on Help. The manual is a PDF document, which can be saved and read separately, searched and printed as required.

Erasing files and folders

As you probably know if you have installed Eraser, deleting files and folders leaves the data they contain on your drive; in contrast, when you erase a file, the data is gone. Permanently.

The easiest way to erase files and folders is to use the context menu. Select the file(s)/folder(s) in Windows Explorer, right-click on your selection, and select Eraser|Erase. Task Bar notifications appear when the task is initiated and completed, and that’s it. Your file(s)/folder(s) are gone. Note that in the current version there may be no confirmation dialog for context menu erasing; this is being added in future versions.

If you have a more complex set of files to erase, or you want to be more sure of what you are doing, you may find it easier to use the drag and drop method. Open an Explorer window on the file(s) you wish to erase. Then open the Eraser application, and make sure that it is showing the Erase Schedule. Drag and drop the files to be erased from Explorer onto the Eraser Window. This time you do have a confirmation dialog; if nothing seems to happen, make sure that the dialog is not hiding behind your Explorer window. When you have confirmed the erase, you will see the task appear in the Schedule, and then disappear again if the task completes successfully. The items you erased are gone.

The third method of erasing files and folders is to create a Schedule task manually. This is discussed in the section on the Schedule below. It is sometimes useful to know that even the temporary tasks initiated from the context menu or by drag and drop are run within the Schedule. You do not normally see them, because they are immediately deleted if they complete successfully; if there is an error, they remain in the Schedule so that you can examine the log and find out what the error was.

Please note that the wear levelling systems used in Solid State Disks (SSDs) and flash drives effectively prevent Eraser from overwriting individual files and folders on these disks. Erasing Free space (which fills the whole drive - see below) will work on SSDs and flash drives, but should not be done too often, as this will shorten drive life.

Erasing the contents of the Recycle Bin
If you prefer to use the Recycle Bin, so that you can check what is going to be erased before you destroy it irrevocably, you can use two of the methods used for erasing files and folders directly (context menu, and Schedule task) to erase the contents of the Bin; drag and drop erasing is being added in future versions. For context menu erasing, right-click on the Recycle Bin icon, and select Eraser|Erase.

Running Eraser as Administrator
For some erasing tasks, and in particular when you erase free space on a drive, Windows Vista or Windows 7 may require that you run Eraser as Administrator (also known as 'running elevated'). To do this, first close the running instance of Eraser by right-clicking on the small Eraser icon in the System Tray at the right hand end of the Taskbar and selecting Exit Eraser. Then right-click on the Eraser program icon on the Desktop or the Start Menu and select Run as Administrator. Note that, when Eraser is running elevated, you cannot drag and drop on to the Eraser window from an Explorer window that is running normally; this is a Windows restriction.

If the Eraser Tray Icon does not appear
Recent versions of Windows seem all too eager to make system tray icons invisible, but they may still be present. The following procedure applies to Windows 7. If you click on the tiny upwards pointing triangle on the left of the tray, a small window appears with icons that are not visible in the tray. The Eraser icon (which is a miniature version of the desktop icon) may appear here. If it doesn't, click on the 'Customize' link in the window, and you will see options for each icon; for Eraser you will need 'show icon and notifications' to be set. And if the icon is still invisible, open the Eraser program from the desktop and the Start Menu, and the icon should appear.

Erasing the Free Space on the drive
If you want to get rid of files you have previously deleted but not erased, Eraser can erase all the free space on your drive. It does this by writing files containing random data until the drive is full, then deleting these files, and also overwriting all the unused entries in the master file table. By default, cluster tips (the spaces between the ends of files and the ends of the spaces allocated to them) are also erased. This is a lengthy process, typically taking some hours, and it works the hard drive quite hard, so it should not be done too often, particularly on SSDs and flash drives.

You can start this process from the context menu of the drive icon in (My) Computer (select Eraser|Erase Unused Space), or by creating a task in the Schedule. If you can, disable any running programs (in particular, your antivirus) before erasing unused space, and do not run any other programs while the erase is in progress. And, as stated above, if you are running Vista or Windows 7, you must run Eraser as Administrator if you wish to erase free space.

Erasing a complete (non-system) drive
If you want to erase the whole of a drive other than your C: drive (for example an external USB hard drive), the best method with version 6.0 is to do a quick format of the drive, and then erase the free space on it, that is all the space. Future versions of Eraser will do this in a single operation.

Note that this will not work on your system (C:) drive, or on any drive on which Eraser is installed, because both Windows and the Eraser files must be present for Eraser to work. The best method for a system drive is to do a factory restore (if a program to do this is available on your machine, as it is on most laptops and some branded desktops), and then install Eraser and wipe the free space. If no factory restore program is available, reinstall Windows using the option to format the drive and start from scratch, and then use Eraser as previously described. These are operations for experienced computer users, and are not recommended for beginners.

Removing a system drive from its parent machine, installing it in a dick or caddy and attaching it as an external drive to a second machine for wiping provides the most thorough clean prior to the re-installation of Windows.

Be warned: any process that involves formatting a whole drive, especially a system drive, is seriously destructive. Back up your drive (if possible, twice) before attempting anything of this nature.

The Eraser Schedule
When you start the Eraser program, the Schedule opens. Here you can create complex or bespoke tasks as well as tasks you may want to reuse, or you can schedule a task to run on restarting the computer or repeatedly at a set time. Former Eraser 5 users may wish to know that there is only the one schedule; there are no separate tabs for scheduled and non-scheduled tasks, as there were in Eraser 5, because every task is handled in the one schedule. Also, while you can still run multiple tasks in Eraser 6, as you could in Eraser 5, in Eraser 6 tasks are run in the background (similar to operations in Windows Explorer) and consecutively, as this is usually quicker and more efficient than running several tasks concurrently. You can run other programs while Eraser is working in the background, but this is not advised if you are trying to erase the free space on a drive.

Start a new task by clicking on the drop-down arrow next to the Schedule button on the Eraser taskbar and selecting New Task, right clicking in the Eraser window and selecting New Task, or pressing Ctrl+N. In the dialog that opens, select the task type (for new users, more often than not, this will be ‘run manually’) then click on Add Data to open a further dialog to specify what you want to erase. Here you must first click the radio button for the kind of data you wish to erase (file(s), folder(s), Recycle Bin, or free space on the drive), then specify any options (including the path to file(s)/folder(s)) as necessary. Note that you can add multiple data items to any given task. If you wish to change a data item when you have returned to the task dialog, double-click on the data item to reopen its dialog, or right-click on it to delete it.

When you have specified the data to erase, you can exit both dialogs, and the Task will be saved in the Schedule. A task that you run manually will show the status 'Not Queued', which simply indicates that it is waiting for you to start it. To run a task, right-click on the task and select 'Run now'. To delete a task, select Delete.

There are many more features in the schedule than can be covered in this introductory note. Please read the Eraser manual on how to (for example) edit an existing task, schedule a task to run repeatedly and set options such as the erasing method.

Eraser Settings
You set global settings for Eraser (such as the default erasing methods) in the Eraser Settings screen; access this by clicking the Settings button of the Eraser application taskbar. Details of the individual settings, some of which are quite technical, are beyond the scope of this note; please read the Eraser manual for details of each setting. However, there are two general points for new users to note. Firstly, the Settings screen scrolls within the window; some options are not visible when the screen first opens. Secondly, to implement any changes you make to the settings, you must click the Save Settings button at the top right of the window; you may need to scroll back to access this button.

The Task Log
Eraser 6 does not show a progress window in the same way as Eraser 5, because tasks are run in the background, but it does maintain an event log for each task, on each occasion that it is run, as well as providing taskbar notifications when a task started from the context menu is initiated and completed. If you want to check the log, right-click on the task in the Schedule, and select View Task Log. If the task completed successfully, the log may be completely empty. If you wish to read a truncated entry in full, you can copy it to the clipboard and paste it into a text editor; this rather cumbersome arrangement will be improved in future versions. If there are a great number of entries (see the Errors and Warnings section), you can clear the log to save disk space.

Checking that erased files and folders are gone
Obviously, you can check in Explorer (or in, for example, the Recycle Bin) whether or not the file entries have disappeared. But that does not guarantee that the files are not recoverable. The best way to check erasures is to run one of the many file recovery utilities, and check whether is can recover your files. Even after a free space erase, recoverable files may be discovered; these will often include the (randomly named) files Eraser uses to wipe free space, but erased files and deleted files after a free space erase should not be recoverable. Note however that, if you are using the NTFS file system, copies or part copies of previously deleted files may reside in such locations as the NTFS shadow copies and the paging file. This data has not been deleted and so remains after a free space erase. Some programs, for example security applications, may also maintain extensive logs of activity on the machine and these may also contain sensitive data. Simply erasing data can only be a part of a systematic approach to computer privacy and security

Errors and Warnings
Eraser works quite close to the limits of what the Operating System allows, and it is inevitable that tasks will sometimes complete with one or more errors or warnings. A task initiated from the context menu or by drag and drop will be automatically deleted from the Schedule if it completes normally. If it completes with errors or warnings, it will remain in the schedule, so that you can examine the task log; in that event, you will need to delete it manually if you no longer need it.

To ensure that users are fully informed about what is going on, all errors and warnings are recorded in the log. This will include every occasion on which the Operating System blocks access to a file (for example because it is protected by the system, is read-only, is in use by another process, or the current user is not allowed to access it). For some tasks, such as wiping free space on a system drive, it is possible than hundreds of such error messages will appear in the log. These are rarely major problems, but users do need to be aware of the limitations of what Eraser can do. By and large, messages which state that cluster tips could not be erased should not be regarded as a major problem, while failures to erase target files and folders, or otherwise to complete a task, should be investigated.

With well over 250,000 Eraser 6 downloads at the time of writing, and a relatively small number of problem reports on the Forum, Eraser 6.0.10 is now a stable application. If you do encounter a problem, you should read the companion FAQ thread on common Eraser questions before seeking advice on the Forum.

I hope that this post is a helpful introduction to Eraser, and that you find the program useful, as I do. But please remember: think twice (or three times) and erase once.

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