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Is “Wipe the content” the same as “Secure Delete”?

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If you've been using AB Commander to manage your files and folders, you've probably noticed the Wipe the content option available on the Delete window (that appears when you choose the Delete command from the menu of AB Commander):

The Delete file window with Wipe the content option

You've been probably wondering, why would you need that option? Isn't the Delete command supposed to do that by itself?

To understand the need for this option, let's consider what happens under the hood when you delete a file. If you use Windows Explorer to delete a file on a drive that has a Recycle Bin on it, then the file is not deleted at all! Instead, Windows moves it to the Recycle Bin, giving you (or someone else who gets hold of your disk) the possibility to restore the file you've "deleted". The same happens when you delete the file with AB Commander and select the Move to the Recycle Bin option on the Delete window.

If you do not select the Move to the Recycle Bin option (or, if the file is located on a drive that does not have the Recycle Bin), then the deletion occurs differently: instead of moving the file to the Recycle Bin, Windows marks the blocks of the hard drive space occupied by the file as available for use by other files. That is, even though the file disappears from the file listings, its content still remains on the disk! That's what makes the undelete programs possible: they work by analyzing the internal structures that Windows keeps on the disk and use that information to reconstruct the files deleted in this way. If the file has been deleted only a few minutes ago and you have not created any new files yet, there is a good chance to undelete the file in this way. However, keep in mind that even if you yourself didn't create any files, Windows could do that silently in the background, and thus overwrite the blocks of data on the disk that used to belong to the file you've deleted.

In any case, the important fact about deleting a file without moving it into the Recycle Bin is that the content of the file is not getting destroyed and there is a possibility to reconstruct it (or a part of it), even after the file has been deleted. What if the file contains sensitive information that you want to actually be destroyed? That's what Wipe the content option is for. If you select this option, then before deleting the file, AB Commander wipes its content by writing constant bytes over the actual data the file contains. This way, if someone gets hold of your disk and uses an undelete program to recover the file you've deleted, the recovered file would contain the bytes written over by AB Commander when wiping the file, rather than the original content of the file.

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The bytes used to wipe out the content of the files depend on the number of passes you select next to the Wipe the content option. If you select 1 pass, then AB Commander replaces each byte of the file content with 0. If you select 3 passes, then AB Commander overwrites each byte 3 times. The first pass uses the byte 0x55 (which happens to have the binary representation of 01010101), the second pass uses the byte 0xAA (or 10101010 in the binary presentation), and the third pass uses the byte 0. Of course, keep in mind that using the 3-pass wiping takes 3 times as long to complete.

"Why don't you call this option Secure Delete then, like many of your competitors do", you might be wondering? Well, because "secure" is a strong word and we would rather use it only when something is really secure. Unfortunately, there are situations when the Wipe the content option may not produce the intended result. For example, if the file you want to erase is located on a SSD or a flash drive, there is a good chance that the drive controller uses the wear-leveling techniques, to extend the useful life of the device. It means that when the content of a file is overwritten, the new bytes may be written to a block of the drive's space other than that of the original file. In such a case, even if you select the 3-pass wipe option, each pass would be written to a new set of the drive space blocks, and no wiping of the content would actually occur. Calling such an operation "secure" would be very misleading.

Even if the drive does not use the wear-leveling, there is a possibility for the original content of the file to leak even after its content has been wiped. For example, when you save a file after editing it, many programs do not write the new content directly over the exiting data. Instead, they first create a temporary file, write the new content in it, and after making sure the file has been created successfully, they delete the original file, and rename the new file back to the original. (It may all happen in the background, without you noticing it). The result is, the previous content of the file is still available on the drive, even if you don't see it. If you wipe the content of the file you've just saved, you would wipe only the latest version of it, while the previous version would still be available for the undelete utilities to recover. Again, we would not want to use the word "secure" for the option that may provide an insecure result.

OK, if secure delete of files is not reliable, what should you do if you really want to make sure the file cannot be recovered no matter what? Well, the only 100% option is to physically destroy the drive. (Although that may not be easy: if you ever tried to disassemble a hard drive you know what I mean!). If physical destruction is not an option, the next best thing is to securely erase the whole drive. Go to the web site of the manufacturer of your drive and search for a secure erase utility in the Downloads or Support section: you may find such a utility offered by the manufacturer tailored specifically to your drive.

The third best option is to do a "full" (rather than "quick") format of the drive, using the Windows drive formatting tools. (See Windows Help for more information what your version of Windows has to offer in this regard). When Windows does the full format, it erases every part of the drive, including any previous versions of the files that might be lying around. While it may not stop a determined forensic analyst, the full format should prevent the regular undelete tools from recovering your files.

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AB Commander version 7.7 released

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Breaking news: we’ve just released AB Commander version 7.7!

What’s new in this version:

  • The Wipe the content option has been added to the Delete command. You can use this option to make it much harder (if not impossible) to reconstruct the contents of the files being deleted.
  • The file management commands (Copy, Move, Delete, etc.) are now performed asynchronously. For example, if you’ve started a long operation to copy a large file, you can continue working with AB Commander without having to wait for the copying to finish.
  • The Undo command has been added to the Command menu. (Previously, it was only accessible via the Ctrl-Z key combination).
  • Several other minor improvements and corrections have been made.

Enjoy!

How to make elevated programs recognize network drives

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One of the useful tools that Windows offers is the ability to assign drive letters to the network locations. You can use the Map Network Drive command of Windows Explorer or AB Commander to create the network drives. After a network drive has been created, you can use it just like any other drive: browse its contents, copy file to or from it, and so on.

A problem may occur, however, if you use Windows Vista or Windows 7 and need to access the network drive from an application that runs elevated (a.k.a. as administrator). For example, when you run AB Commander as usual, it runs as the standard user, and displays any network drive that you might have created, for example:

AB Commander shows a network drive in the Computer folder
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However, unlike Windows Explorer that always runs as a standard user, AB Commander offers you an option to run it as administrator. (You can do it by using the Restart as Administrator command on the Tools menu.) If you restart AB Commander as administrator, you might be surprised to see no network drive in its window:

Why is the network drive missing?
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(You can recognize that AB Commander is running as administrator by the presence of the Administrator label in its title bar).

To understand why the network drive is not visible to the programs running as administrator, we have to consider how Windows handles the standard and administrator user access internally. In simple terms, when UAC (User Account Control) is enabled, Windows creates a split personality for your user account: one with the standard user’s access rights to do the the regular tasks, and another one with the full administrative access to the system. When you log in to the computer, Windows tries hard to create the impression that these two personalities are the same: they share the login name and password, the desktop and documents, settings and preferences, and so on. However, when it comes to mapping the network drives, Windows prefers to treat them as separate accounts (for security reasons). That’s why the network drives created when you wear the hat of the standard user do not automatically become available when you put the administrator’s hat on. This Microsoft article explains it all in detail.

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Such behavior is rather counter-productive: after all, the administrator account is supposed have more access to the system, it’s supposed to be able to see and do all things that are available to the standard user, plus some more. Why can’t it see the network drive created by the standard user?

In any case, there is a way to force Windows to make the network drives available to both the standard and administrator accounts automatically. All you need to do is run Registry Editor (regedit.exe), locate the following key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SOFTWARE/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Policies/System

and create a new DWORD entry with the name EnableLinkedConnections and value 1:

The value EnableLinkedConnections in the registry
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Caution: If you are not very experienced with Registry Editor, please be extra careful: it’s a powerful tool that can do a lot of damage to your system if used carelessly.

After you’ve added the EnableLinkedConnections value to the Registry, restart the computer, and after that the network drives you create should become available to the elevated applications, as well.

Happy networking!

Update for Windows 8

It appears that the EnableLinkedConnections setting is not always working correctly on Windows 8: if a standard user has created a mapped network drive pointing to a subfolder of a shared folder (for example, drive Z: connected to //server/share/subfolder), then the elevated user will see the drive Z:, but it will be pointing to the root share, //server/share/, not to the subfolder.

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If this error creates a problem for you, then it’s better not to use the EnableLinkedConnections registry fix at all. Instead, just create the mapped network drive twice: first time using a standard user’s account, and the second time using an administrator account. Sure, it’s twice the work, but it should work correctly in all situations.

Good luck!

If you want to link to this article, you can use this HTML code: <a href=”http://www.winability.com/how-to-make-elevated-programs-recognize-network-drives/”>How to make elevated programs recognize network drives</a>

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How to disable hibernation with AB Commander

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If you used Space Investigator to analyze the contents of your C: drive, you probably couldn’t help but notice a rather large file named hiberfil.sys in the root folder. This file is used by Windows to remember the state of your computer when you hibernate it.

OK, but what if you never hibernate your computer? (In most cases sleep is what it does, which is not the same as hibernate). The size of this file is about the same as the size of the RAM your computer has, it would be nice to delete the file and allow other files use that space. However, if you attempt to delete the file directly (using Space Investigator, AB Commander, or Windows Explorer), you might be surprised to discover that Windows does not let you delete it, even if you use your full powers of the administrator.

To solve this problem, you need to disable hibernation: when you do that, Windows deletes the hiberfil.sys file for you. Windows XP offers a special button in its Control Panel that you can use to disable or enable hibernation. However, Windows Vista and Windows 7 for some reason don’t offer a similar command. Fortunately, there is a way to disable or enable hibernation: by running the powercfg.exe command with the administrative privileges and the appropriate command line switches, as described in this Microsoft article.

If you have AB Commander, you might be surprised to know that it can be used to achieve the same result especially easy. To do this, you need to know three things:

  1. AB Commander lets you launch any command by entering it into its command bar (at the bottom of AB Commander window).
  2. You can start a command elevated (a.k.a “As Administrator”) by pressing the Ctrl+Shift+Enter keys.
  3. You have to know the correct command (and any parameters, if applicable) to run to perform the specific task you want.

For turning the hibernation on and off, the above mentioned Microsoft article gives us all information we need:

To disable hibernation, run this command:

powercfg.exe /hibernate off

To enable hibernation back, run this command:

powercfg.exe /hibernate on

Remember to launch these commands “As Administrator”, or they won’t work:

Press Ctrl+Shift+Enter to run a command As Administrator with AB Commander
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Happy computing!

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A minor fix for AB Commander released

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We goofed! In the previous version 7.5.6, we’ve added a few additional checks of the license key validity and it turned out one of them was one too many: it caused a message asking the user to enter a valid license key to appear in some circumstances, even though the correct license key was already entered.

To correct this error, we’ve released an updated version 7.5.7 today. (It has no other improvements over 7.5.6, so if you don’t see that message, feel free to skip this update). If you do want to upgrade, you can install the new version without removing the previous one, and it should upgrade the files and retain your settings.

AB Commander 7.5 released

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We’ve just released a new version of AB Commander 7.5.

This version adds several new features, such as the ability to navigate to any of the parent folders by clicking on their names in the panel title bars, or the use of the CTRL+WINDOWS key combination to quickly exit, minimize, or iconize AB Commander. This version also adds integration with our new product USBCrypt: now when you stop a Virtual Encrypted Disk created with USBCrypt, AB Commander releases its resources automatically.

As before, our usual upgrade policy applies: if you have purchased an AB Commander license within the previous 12 months, you can upgrade to this version free of charge: just download and install the new version, it should replace the previous version automatically for you. Otherwise, please visit the Upgrade Center to receive the automatic 50% upgrade discount.

Should you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Happy file commanding!

WinAbility Software