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Some computer users think the “delete” button is the cyberequivalent of the office shredder. Click the button, and the file is gone forever. But more and more lawyers and their clients are learning the hard way that a wealth of potentially damaging information can be dredged from a computer’s supposedly sanitized hard drive. Files that are “deleted” actually stay on the hard drive; only the file name and a pointer to the file’s location are erased. Those ghost files can stay around indefinitely, as long as it takes before the freed space is needed. Even innocuous files can have hidden, randomly selected data tacked on to fill out preset file allocation parcels. Software packages that destroy — or shred — such hidden data simply overwrite the old files with gibberish. The U.S. Department of Defense shredding standard, dubbed “DOD 5220.22-M,” calls for a file to be overwritten seven times using a different set of random data for each pass. Anyone who wants to be sure deleted files and e-mail are inaccessible, even to a forensic computer expert armed with a subpoena, can find helpful software and information on the Web. Some programs can be downloaded and tested before purchase. BESTWIPE Jetico, which offers a data encryption product called BestCrypt, also offers a data erasing program called BestWipe. The company claims BestWipe meets Department of Defense specifications for erasing deleted files. The cost is $29.95 for one user, with lower per-user prices available for site licenses. DESTROY-IT Business Logic Corp. offers Destroy-it, which performs what it calls “bulletproof shredding.” The software uses an overwriting engine to shred files, even offering the option of using standards that exceed Department of Defense specifications. The program costs $29.95. DATAERASER Ontrack Data International Inc. offers two versions of its data-shredding software: a personal version for $29.95 and a professional version for $199.95. The professional version takes the shredding to a higher level than the personal version. For example, the higher-cost software can be configured to make up to 99 overwriting passes, far exceeding the Department of Defense standard. CYBERSCRUB CyberScrub claims its product can destroy any data from deleted files as it wipes the disk “free” space. It also can wipe the slack, or unused, portion of existing files that sometimes can contain sensitive data. SHREDDER 95/98/NT With this product, the user can drag and drop a file into a garbage can and be confident that the data will be shredded to DOD standards. It costs from $29.95 to $49.95, depending on the level of shredding capability needed. EVIDENCE ELIMINATOR takes an unusual approach in its “Reasons to Buy” section by displaying news summaries describing some of the terrible things that can happen to people in prison. The way to avoid being the victim of prison rape or guard abuse, the site implies, is to stay out of prison by buying Evidence Eliminator for $74.95. The program won’t work on Windows NT, however, leaving NT users at the mercy of their future cellmates. PDWIPE Digital Intelligence Inc. works on both sides of the fence, marketing software to shred data and systems to recover deleted files. The recovery system is called F.R.E.D., or Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device. PDWipe, or Physical Drive Wipe, is the shredding program. SAFEMESSAGE SECURE COMMUNICATIONS SafeMessage calls its product — a kind of super-secure substitute for e-mail — “the most secure communication system on the planet” for electronic data communication. SafeMessage allows the sender of a message to prevent duplication of the encrypted message and even allows the sender to set an “autoshred” option, leaving no permanent record anywhere, even on the recipient’s system. But users — senders and recipients — must log on to the service to complete the communication.

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