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I have a very specific and strange situation - I need to remove as much secure information as possible from a shared computer as quickly as possible without removing almost any of the core functionality. I have 3 days to finish my thesis, clear out my desk and workspaces, pack everything and get on a plane to move 3000 miles away permanently. Needless to say, I'm aware that the timing is not ideal.

The problem is that I've been the sole exclusive user of this shared console computer for the past few years and I've been more wreckless about leaving personal information on here than I had hoped. Normally in this situation I'd try to back up the data and do a secure delete, but that's problematic for a number of reason, but the biggest one is that I'm the only person in the lab who knows how to manage some of the complicated webs of dependencies upon which some of the essential programs rely - even if I started now, there wouldn't be enough time to securely delete everything and re-install everything, and that could put everyone else a month or more behind schedule. (Not to mention some of the equipment this computer runs is out of date and new drivers break it, so I'd be relying on the ability to get archived drivers).

In any case, given my limited time and options, I'm going to try to set some reasonable goals:

  1. Clear all personal browser information out securely - auto-fill, passwords accidentally saved, that sort of thing. What is the best option for this? I'm worried that some of it might be stored somewhere non-obvious like the registry or hidden temp files.

  2. Where I do find something personal, I'd like it permanently deleted - is there a reliable secure delete function for Windows 7? Is there a good mechanism for identifying duplicate files like backups that I might have missed?

  3. Permanently remove the dropbox on here. I needed it to share folders and such with collaborators, but now there's a dropbox associated with an e-mail address that'll be disabled within a few months, and I can't lose control of those data.

I'm aware that this is actually 3 questions plus the vague and ill-defined implied 4th question "What am I missing?", so if more experienced people think I should split this up into 3 separate questions, I'll edit appropriately. I think they're probably related enough that there's a non-zero chance that there's a single solution or strategy that solves all 3(4).

Oh, one more thing - even though I'd prefer the bulk of it to be done by Sunday morning, I'll have remote access via VPN + VNC and FTP, plus if your solution requires it I can install other stuff like a remote shell or something. Just throwing that out there.

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It's probably a good idea to change all of your online passwords if you've signed yourself into any web pages from this machine or asked the browser to remember any passwords. – Richard Apr 12 '13 at 7:54
The only way will be to clear the cache of any programs you use, move any personal files off these computers, and wipe the free space on those systems once you are done. – Ramhound Apr 12 '13 at 11:36
up vote 4 down vote accepted

This list is not exhaustive, I'm just adding what I come up with in addition to what you suggested yourself.

  • Delete all cookies (either from the browser or by locating the directory and deleting all files)

  • Delete all files in your user directory

  • Don't forget to uninstall software that you specifically installed and is not for others

  • Try to remember what programs you used that may have kept personal information, then delete that data from within those programs

  • See what else Windows 7 Disk Cleanup can find and erase it

  • Install cCleaner; let it remove all temp files, have it clean/check everything and finally have it clear/wipe the erased file space.

  • Finally, log in under another account and delete your user account

Note that your 'most secure' requirements conflicts with "without removing..." You can't have it both ways ;-) Only wiping the entire disk with software like DBAN is secure.

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For the browser it might be best to simply reset it completely, or create a new user profile and delete the old one. – Karan Apr 12 '13 at 19:51

Remove your useraccount in the control panel and the corresponding useracccount folder under C:\Users.

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This is a start, but from what I can tell, that's only the beginning. The "Documents" library is some kind of virtual folder, I'm not sure where it ends up, but not all of it ends up in C:\Users\username\Documents. – Paul Apr 12 '13 at 4:20

Remove all users but one administrator on the machine. Change the ownership of the folder C:\Users\ to this administrator: Right click on the folder, go to the Security tab, click on Advanced button. Go to the Owner tab, click on Edit, select the remaining administrator under 'Change owner to' and mark 'Replace owner on sub...'. Press OK. Close every window with OK. Then you can shift-delete (permanently and quickly) the directory.

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Most personal files are inside the user profile. Making a new profile and erasing the old one should solve most of your problem. – Overmind Mar 27 '15 at 13:00

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