For almost four and a half years, I've been picking at least one Windows- or web-based application pick each week on the Windows Weekly podcast. In the past, I highlighted these picks only within the post for the podcast episode in which it was highlighted, making it difficult for listeners to find past picks, and almost impossible for visitors to this site to discover them.

But that's all changing, starting with this week's pick: Eraser.

Date: January 21, 2011
Type: Utility
Publisher: Eraser
Version: 6.0.8
Release date: November 6, 2010
Price: FREE
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A few weeks back I wrote about a key piece of hardware in my arsenal of tools, a USB 2.0 to SATA/IDE cable, as part of my IT Toolbox commentary. This hardware lets you connect any modern hard drive (SATA or IDE, desktop or laptop) to a workbench PC so you can access its contents, format it, or whatever. But there's another use for this device that I didn't mention in that commentary, and as we move forward to ever-bigger and faster hard drives, this use is becoming more and more important. That is, we often need to retire hard drives, perhaps selling them, giving them away, or simply tossing them out. And when we do that, we need a way to securely erase the contents of the drive so that some future recipient doesn't use a software forensics tool to steal valuable personal or professional data.

There are many such tools for this job, and indeed, Windows even comes with semi-useful functionality in the command line utility diskpart.exe that writes zeros to all disk sectors. But that's not enough, not if you're serious about keeping your private data private. And Eraser is the tool I use and recommend for this purpose.

According to the utility's web site, Eraser is an advanced security tool for Windows which allows you to completely remove sensitive data from your hard drive by overwriting it several times with carefully selected patterns. (And there are plenty of choices about how this is written, and in how many passes.) This type of erasure is more effective than simply writing zeros once, though of course it can be time consuming. Very time consuming. But if data security is important to you, it's well worth it.

Eraser has a number of useful features. It can optionally integrate with the Windows shell, which is handy. And it can also securely erase portions of a partition, not just the whole disk. For example, you can use Eraser to securely erase the unused portion of a drive, or just a folder. You can also choose to erase when the PC reboots.

One important thing to know about Eraser, however, is that it's a bit unfriendly: If you choose to erase a drive, or other shell location, it will start up immediately with no warning. So be serious about what you mean to do here, and choose carefully.

Eraser is a valuable tool for any Windows power user. Highly recommended.