East-Tec Eraser 2005 is a dual-purpose product, combining secure file deletion with clean-up tools to erase traces from PCs.
If you have never run anything like this before, you will probably be astonished at the amount of garbage left lying around your file system. When you consider the possible ramifications of sensitive data sprinkled across all your users' PCs, it becomes more serious than just a nagging annoyance.
Using Windows with the normal set of corporate applications leaves traces across your computer, like greasy fingerprints on your screen. While many are relatively harmless (such as the lists of recently opened documents) other are more risky: backup save files for documents you thought safely deleted, internet caches, image thumbnails and many more. And nearly every application is as guilty as the OS, leaving crumbs behind in unexpected corners, waiting for an enterprising snooper to stop by.
Most of the threat here is from internal users accessing information they should not on another person's system (or a shared PC), and from theft. Cleaning up trace data before a theft is probably the least of your worries – there is probably much more sensitive data right there in the documents themselves – but even if the documents are locked down, there are likely to be fragments of data leaked elsewhere on the filesystem.
East-Tec Eraser 2005 tackles this in a similar fashion to anti-spyware tools, armed with where to find the data and a set of known applications to safely remove it. The software is bundled with templates for an astonishing number of applications, covering commonly used email clients, web browsers, productivity software, and peer-to-peer applications, as well as the standard Windows traces. While most of the complexity can be ignored by just firing the software off in basic mode and letting it run in the background, an advanced interface shows the details of each application and what is being cleaned, as well as allowing custom templates to be created that will remove specified sets of files, folders and registry keys.
The software's other function is to securely delete files, which is a basic job for which there are plenty of tools available. This one is no worse than many others, with a simple drag-and-drop interface and integration into the Windows shell, so that files can be deleted from the right-click context menu.
The interface is a bit confusing, with a top line of buttons that are very similar in appearance, but vary in function and are separate from the main application buttons, presented in a column down the left-hand side. Easy to grasp, but not intuitive, and given the target audience (i.e. anyone) it could use a little clarification. The big "Erase Beyond Recovery" button, for example, does not erase the current list of files, but pops up a totally separate dialog to do something similar.
Also provided is a surprisingly complex scheduler. Tasks can be set to run at various intervals, on demand or when the PC is idle, immediately after startup or just before a scheduled shutdown.
To prevent conflicts, other applications can be forcibly shut down when a task runs. Any of the tasks offered by the application can be run, with any degree of granularity. This is much more flexibility than most people will ever need, but it does allow for some very specific tasks, such as cleaning up the internet cache, erasing document metadata, then powering off the PC.
The product is also available in a network version, East-Tec Eraser for Networks, which delivers the same set of functions controlled from a central admin point.
Like a clean-desk policy, this allows the network administrator to control the level of cruft left on corporate workstations and laptops.
We were surprised not to see an update facility. While the core set of applications will change only slowly (like MS Office, the handful of major web browsers, and so on) there are other components, such as browser toolbars, P2P and messaging applications, which are in constant flux and might need much more regular updates. It turned out East-Tec had mistakenly supplied us with a trial version of the software – the difference between that and the full professional version being an update facility. There are also standard and basic versions with different combinations of features at reduced prices.
Cleaning up after your OS and applications is a chore, rather like running anti-spyware tools. We like the East-Tec Eraser products because they do a thorough job of cleaning up, with neat scheduling capability, too.
The secure deletion is a useful addition, although we suspect few users will ever bother with this – these are the same people writing their passwords on Post-It notes, after all. But the Eraser deserves a place alongside your anti-spyware and antivirus tools.