Delete, erase, shred and wipe – what’s the difference?

Blog > ITAD > Delete, erase, shred and wipe – what’s the difference?

You can delete a file without erasing it, erase a drive without wiping it and wipe hundreds of files at once…that have already been deleted.

Stay with me now, we know it’s confusing! Delete, erase, and wipe are often used interchangeably – and they shouldn’t be. Each word means something different has happened to a file, folder or entire storage device.

We’ll break it down for you:

Delete: Doesn’t actually do what you think it should 

People use the word ‘delete’ a lot. When your colleague asks if you still have that sales report, you say you’ve ‘deleted’ it or your friend asks you to ‘delete’ that unforgiving selfie they took on your phone last Friday.

The word ‘delete’ has become synonymous with the term ‘to get rid of’, but in reality, that’s far from the truth.

When you delete something, be it from your smartphone, computer, tablet or any other electronic device – you don’t really get rid of it – you just hide it from yourself. The data that makes up what you’ve deleted is still there and can be recovered with the right software (most of which is freely available online).

Depending on how recently you deleted these files, they are easy to get back. If you don’t want something you’ve ‘deleted’ to be recovered (by yourself or someone using your devices after you) – erase it!

To summarise: when you delete a file, you don’t erase it – you just make it harder to find.

Erase: There’s no messing around, it’s gone

The term ‘erase’ is what most of us are trying to achieve when we try to ‘get rid of’ a file. Erasing something – in the technology world – means once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.

There are three ways you can erase data:

  1. Wipe the storage device using special software – such as Blancco
  2. Disrupt the magnetic field of the device – using a degausser
  3. Physically destroying the device – using a purpose-built shredder

If you want to use the device again safe in the knowledge you won’t ever see those files again, the first method – wiping the device is your best option.

To summarise: when you erase a file, you make it impossible to recover.

Wipe: This will erase EVERYTHING

When you wipe a hard drive, or data storage device – you erase everything that is currently on it, as well as files you’ve previously deleted.

There are specialist ‘data destruction’ programs that can be used to wipe entire storage devices. XPO IT Services uses Blancco software for all of their secure data erasure processes.

So, because a wipe erases everything on a device, you can either continue to use the device yourself or upgrade and remarket your old asset – You could end up making money out of it – always a bonus, right?

To summarise: when you wipe a drive, you permanently erase everything on it.

Shred: This gets a little physical

When you ‘shred’ a storage device – a hard drive, USB, CD, or DVD – you physically destroy it – rendering it unreadable and unusable.

There are several shredders that can be used for this process; XPO IT Services use Meltog shredders for their on-site and off-site services – shredding any data bearing devices down to 25mm.

To summarise: If you want to destroy your assets, as well as ensuring the data is completely erased – shred it.

The author: Mark Cotterell
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