What Is a Data Shredder?

Malcolm Tatum

A data shredder is a type of software utility that is used to remove data from any type of storage device or hard disk. Unlike some other methods used to do away with unwanted data, a shredder functions by overwriting the information, effectively making it impossible to recover the data once the process is complete. This is in contrast to other methods of wiping data from various devices, such as the degaussing method or the destruction of the device itself.

A data shredder can be used to wipe a hard drive.
A data shredder can be used to wipe a hard drive.

Sometimes referred to as a CBL data shredder, this software provides the benefit of being able to overwrite data and make use of those resources once more for the use of newer data that is still useful. At the same time, the ability to use the shredder to overwrite hard drives and storage devices means that information that is somewhat proprietary in nature is effectively kept out of the hands of those who could use the data for their own ends. From this perspective, use of a data shredder can be seen as a security tool that protects historical data related to company operations from being accessible by those outside the company structure.

Another practical benefit to the use of a data shredder is that it makes it possible to wipe hard drives before declaring older computer systems obsolete. By wiping the drives clean, it is possible for those older systems to be refurbished and sold to users at a lower cost, a measure that effectively leads to less components ending up in junkyards. With many users choosing to purchase refurbished computers for use at home, this approach of shredding or overwriting the older data means that the drive is ready to store new data that the owner will find useful, without posing a possible security risk to the original owner.

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There are several data shredder programs on the market today that offer the benefit of overwriting older data as a means of making that data inaccessible. Along with fee-based programs, there are also a few free types that can be downloaded with relative ease. With all types of shredding programs, it is important to make sure that only certain files and data are selected for the shredding process. Most programs do include some safeguards that prompt users to review the files that are about to be overridden, with the fee-based designs usually providing a greater level of flexibility in screening and selection that the open source applications. In any event, reviewing the files scheduled to be overwritten before executing the order to complete the shredding is essential, since once the process is complete it will be impossible to retrieve the now-missing data.

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