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Issue #416: July 12–18, 2015

Q: My laptop has 2 hard drives. Drive C: has the operating system, programs, docs, etc. Plenty of room left, since it’s a 750GB drive. The second drive, E:, has all the photos I take and edit every day.  Recently I replaced drive E: with a 2TB drive because my photo files had exceeded the available space. It works fine. I also back up my photos to a 4TB external hard drive (drive H:) daily. I don’t usually keep the external drive connected – in case something gets corrupted my photos will be intact on it. I just back it up at the end of the day. A few days ago, I forgot and left it connected to my laptop. I don’t know when, but since I replaced the E: drive, a file appeared on both the E: and H:, apparently the day I left H: attached. It’s named b1fee593701c8b83fc3f. Since the new E: drive didn’t start with it, I took a chance and deleted that file, figuring I could put it back if I had to. No problem and drive E: is running fine. I could NOT delete it from the external drive. Tells me “Access Denied. I need to provide Administrator permission. Continue“. I hit Continue and get a dialog box asking me if I want to the following program to make changes to this computer and that the type of file is File Operation, Verified Publisher Microsoft Windows. I say yes. Dialog box then tells me Folder Access Denied and that I need permission from Administrators to make changes to this folder. I went on the Microsoft support site and it told me exactly how to give Write permission to the Administrators (that would be me) so I could delete the file. Nothing worked. It’s still there. Everything seems to be working fine but it makes me nervous for a file to appear out of the blue and nothing I do makes it go away. Properties tell me it contains 0 bytes. I’ve run AVAST on the drive (in fact on my entire system (full scan) and Malwarebytes. They tell me there are no infections.


– Kay B.
Niceville, Florida


A: I’m tempted to just say “Don’t worry about it, Kay.” and call it solved, because I really don’t see anything that is a genuine problem here.  When you boil it all down, the situation is that you have a computer that is working perfectly well, but there is a file (which isn’t even taking up any space on your hard drive) that you don’t know where it came from, and can’t delete.  Considering all the problems that cross my desk from people who can’t even access their computer, your problem is, well, not really a problem at all.  However, there is stuff to be learned here, so I’ll discuss it in the hopes of imparting some Geek knowledge and wisdom.

First of all, I don’t think the timing of your drive upgrade had anything to do with anything.  Now, the file being on your external drive probably did happen because it was plugged in – obviously if it had been unplugged, this couldn’t have happened.  That file was probably created by something on your computer that’s scheduled to run in the middle of the night, and which either got interrupted, or just didn’t clean up after itself.  This mysterious something apparently ran as a “System” process, which means the files it created belong to the system.  Files marked this way cannot be removed by mere users – they must be removed by someone with Administrator-level control.  I know you think that’s you, but having Administrator-level control is not necessarily the same thing as having an account that is a member of the Administrator group. That changed in Windows Vista, because too many people automatically put their account in Administrators, which gives way-too-many permissions to any malware that is inadvertently launched.

Here’s what I think happened in your case:  “something” (probably your virus scanner) was busy working on your system while you were not.  Something else interrupted that process (perhaps a system update launched, some other housekeeping task started, etc), causing it to abort, and a file that the software was using to keep track of what it was doing accidentally got left behind.  Even though you couldn’t delete it using Microsoft’s advice, this link: will take you to a nice article on How-To Geek that shows you how to take ownership of a System file so you can delete it.  This demonstrates use of some pretty advanced commands, so use it with care.  Good luck!

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