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Nuke data: BleachBit for Windows has 1300+ cleaners to help protect your privacy

Here's a look at BleachBit for Windows, a program to shred, vaccuum and delete data to guard your privacy and free up disk space.

After reading "hundreds of top-secret NSA documents," cryptographer Bruce Schneier advised us on some of the best ways to stay secure from NSA spying. He gave five tips, which included: hiding in the network and anonymizing yourself by using Tor; using TLS or IPsec protocols (commonly used by VPNs) to encrypt your communications; using a machine not connected to the internet for an air gap system; being suspicious of commercial closed-source encryption software from large vendors; and using public-domain encryption as opposed to proprietary software such as Microsoft's BitLocker. It was those last two pieces of advice about potential "NSA-friendly back doors" and large vendors' proprietary software that had me asking "Is Microsoft an enemy of the internet by helping the NSA undermine encryption?"

BleachBit system data shredder options

Additionally, Schneier said that since he began working with Snowden's documents, he has started "using GPG, Silent Circle, Tails, OTR, TrueCrypt, BleachBit, and a few other things I'm not going to write about."

CCleaner by Piriform is one of the most popular cleaning tools for Windows PCs, but BleachBit works for Linux and for Windows, so I downloaded it to check it out. BleachBit documentation states:

Normally when software deletes a file, only the "metadata" is erased: that means the complete contents can often easily be recovered, so BleachBit (and similar applications) offer secure erase features (also called secure wipe or file shredding) to permanently remove data. Some applications even advertise "advanced" erasure methods referencing important names in security such as Gutmann, the United States Department of Defense, and the NSA, but these references often mislead people to waste time on snake oil technological remedies while ignoring important basics. Any product or method suggesting a convenient, comprehensive solution to security is deceptive: convenience and security oppose each other.

BleachBit's Andrew Ziem discussed popular myths and legends associated with data remanence, whether or not the digital data residue left over after erasing data means folks should overwrite data with one pass vs. Gutmann's 35 passes. Ziem also addressed "how to securely delete data" as well as "keeping data private."

In balancing time, convenience and data privacy, BleachBit recommends shredding files with one pass and overwriting the free disk space. The other end of the spectrum includes "destroy data on backups, ISPs, online accounts, etc."; and "don't use any computers because the Nosy Secret Agents may looking over your shoulder using Van Eck phreaking," a process of electromagnetic eavesdropping.

I wanted to try out BleachBit and was curious what the results would be for the "system" option since I reformatted my hard drive not even a week ago. No, it wasn't a common reformat, but a low level zero-fill format. I'm hoping that there won't be offending "This copy of Windows is not Genuine" errors like last year that were irritating enough to grasp why people pirate Windows. My PC is now fairly bare bones, with only the OS and a few programs installed, followed by an image backup. But after a mere few days of use, the BleachBit "system" clean preview stated: "Disk space to be recovered: 2.45GB. Files to be deleted: 69949."

BleachBit alert, warning operation is slow
When you select a category, or subcategory, a brief explanation shows up on the right. Some options, such as "deep scan" include a warning alert if the cleaning operation is "slow."

After making your selections, then click preview to see if there are any files that you want to keep. This also indicates how much disk space can be recovered after bleaching your system.

BleachBit allows you to setup custom cleaning preferences as in the screenshot on the right. "Shown here on Microsoft Windows 8, the custom tab in the preferences allows you to easily choose files that will regularly be cleaned. When you are ready to clean them, check the box System - Custom."

Besides the standard deletion of files, BleachBit can also "vacuum Firefox, Google Chrome, Liferea, Thunderbird, and Yum databases: shrink files without removing data to save space and improve speed. Surgically remove private information from .ini and JSON configuration files without deleting the whole file."

BleachBit vacuum feature shrinks files without removing data to save space and improve speed

There is a standard list of 96 cleaners available with BleachBit, but Windows users can add another 1,237 cleaners by importing cleaning rules from winapp2.ini. Ziem lists the steps for automatically or manually importing winapp2.ini.

I'll admit that I tried BleachBit based on Schneier's wisdom, but so far I like it.

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