Maintaining privavcy / secure deletion of files/data - how can this be achieved?


I was recently party to a converstaion which I found disturbing, in that it centred around data security and privacy. I was amazed at how many people think that highlighting a file and clicking delete means that it is gone. I am also amazed at the multitude of opinions out there as to what what needs to do in order to secure one's self in terms of deleting unwanted files and removing all traces of internet activity. Rather than blindly follow on what I ah heard, I thought I'd post a question here and get some proper guidelines/advice.

I suppose my question(s) would be:

(1) How do I ensure that a deleted file is deleted (cannot be unerased by the million tools out there) ?
(2) How can I ensure that if I format a harddrive, the data can't be recovered?
(3) How do I remove all traces of internet activity?
(4) How do I protect myself against internet attacks?

I think that's about it (if there's anything I';ve left out .....)
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Formatting a disk using multiple passes is really the only way to ensure a disk is completley clean...

There are different standards of doing this, I think the most secure is called the Gutmann method... Which formats your disk, and then runs passes at the disk (30 is the standard number of runs) to ensure all data from the disk is destroyed..

I use this here when we retire old machines... is one product that can do this for you..

As for wiping temp files and history files, I dont know how to ensure these are permanantly gone... Unless you format the disk with the above method....
I  am assuming your primary interest is to protect identity data. I am also assuming you have that famously insecure  platform: Windows. If both are true then you(like everyone running windows) do arguably have a problem. If you are not on top of firewall issues I.e. attacks sourced from with out and ones sourced from within, then an attacker could pull credit card numbers and other personal information right out of your cache files. So the first thing you need to do if you buy online is to make sure you have a top of the line security suite. Mcafee. Zone Alarm, Norton etc. Keep these updated. Secondly, use several spyware suites consistently to keep out spyware. No one suite by itself will do it. If you can afford it, have one machine or partition that you use just for bills and other personal business and don't do anything else with it to avoid infection possibilities. Use a different boot partition and/or machine for general browsing. So if you are taking care of security, this reduces your risk to a good degree but if you get unlucky you could still get jacked.
 So get a utility that you can run on your Os that will wipe most if not all security risky file tracks on your computer.  
Eastetch eraser is one that will get just about everything. Evidence Eliminator was once also good but it hasn't been updated in years and is slower than molasses relative to large modern drives. So East Tech is pretty well rated though there are other freeware versions of such software. As far as Gutman is concerned East Tech eraser will configure with this method but the downside is that it is very much slower  than less secure wiping methods.
This is your balance point. No spyware/virus in the world today will pull  deleted data from a drive even if it is just wiped with a pass or two of zeroes. So if you ran such a utility once every couple of days to clear system and browser traces  no virus /spyware will get this back. Gutman style wiping is reserved for corporate, national security, or criminal elements who fear that their drive might be physical removed/ stolen  from their machine and put under an electron microscope: a phenomenally expensive procedure. You just don't need that kind of industrial overkill. When you do get ready to sell your machine maybe wipe the whole drive with 7 times dod and you can sleep secure. You also may want to consider getting a program that will create an encrypted virtual disk to store any sensitive financial documents in. Something like Drivecypt if you want commercial or find an open sourced PGP type of software.  So is Windows security easy? No it is a pain in the but and requires that you spend money constantly on the issue as most programs to defend you are subscription based and also that you spend time running them properly. So, ultimately, if you really want the easiest solution dump Windows completely and buy a new Mac. Mac is not necessarily that much more secure by nature, it is just that its market share has been so low for years that no one bothers to write viruses or spyware for it. As in none. So you don't have to worry about external attacks at all or internal spyware stuff either. you can still secure delete your files if you want as that is built into the os . You can also encrypt a user's file's . That is built-in to. You get all of your machine's power and ram for your applications.

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For me there is only one 100% solution to securing old drives, the smelter!  
As for cleaning your machine all the time... I would ask yourself, why?  If the machine is in your house and secured (doors/windows locked, security system etc) who are you hiding from?  If you think someone is going to give you a virus and gain access to all your important files then watch what sites you go to and encrypt your important files.  I use a usb drive that is encrypted and kept in a concrete safe (yes, we have a safe made of concrete here).  Change your passwords and bank passwords often and use good passwords and you will be safe.  
Other that taking your whole PC and throwing it in the smelter and never going onto the internet there is no 100% way to be protected.
My 2 cents worth....
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