Security Corner

Feb 28 2009   4:11PM GMT

Use This Little Known Tool to Securely Delete Files and Folders on Your Hard Drive

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

For those who grew up with the graphical user interface, command line tools are often seen as arcane remnants from the dawn of PC history, a time when badly-dressed nerds sporting horn-rimmed glasses and pocket protectors ruled the universe (well, maybe just the computer lab). For them, nearly all of the command line tools are little known; for us dinosaurs who were typing on terminals well before the PC arrived, there are few of these older tools we haven’t seen. However, as the GUI gradually replaced the command line and we command line geeks began to point and click more and more, some useful tools escaped our notice. One of these is the ten-year-old SDelete by Mark Russinovich of Sysinternals fame. Microsoft acquired Sysinternals in July, 2006 and made all of the excellent tools available free.

Using SDelete

SDelete is a command line utility that takes a number of options. In any given use, it allows you to delete one or more files and/or directories, or to cleanse the free space on a logical disk. SDelete accepts wild card characters as part of the directory or file specifier.

Usage: sdelete [-p passes] [-s] [-q] <file or directory>
sdelete [-p passes] [-z|-c] [drive letter]

-c     Zero free space (good for virtual disk optimization).

-p passes     Specifies number of overwrite passes.

-s     Recurse subdirectories.

-q     Don’t print errors (quiet).

-z     Cleanse free space.

SDelete implements the Department of Defense clearing and sanitizing standard DOD 5220.22-M, which is overkill (see The Great Drive Wiping Controversy Settled at Last), but ensures your data is deleted forever. There is one caveat: SDelete securely deletes file data, but not file names located in free disk space. If you want to be completely sure that all traces of a file are gone, be sure to use the –c or –z option.


Want to see even more useful, little known tools? Check out Sysinternals Live:

Sysinternals Live is a service that enables you to execute Sysinternals tools directly from the Web without hunting for and manually downloading them. Simply enter a tool’s Sysinternals Live path into Windows Explorer or a command prompt as<toolname> or  \\\tools\<toolname>.

You can view the entire Sysinternals Live tools directory in a browser at

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  • Bigitgeek
    very nice! thanks I was unaware of sdelete Kilroy
    30 pointsBadges:

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