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Why should I clear the contents of the swap file on a shutdown?

I was reading your definition of a "swap file" and the fact that it uses virtual (disc) memory to move the contents of physical memory to the virtual memory.

I have a system I am working with that is a proprietary NT-4 system and one of its security related settings allows you to "clear the swap file on shutdown". Any ideas why I would want to clear the contents of the swap file on a shutdown (from a security perspective)?

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Many people who are highly security-conscious would want the swapfile to be cleared at shutdown to prevent someone from obtaining the file and analyzing it for possible sensitive information. This doesn't just include passwords stored in plaintext, but pieces of documents or other human-readable data could be found there and exploited. On systems where security isn't that big a consideration, this option has little benefit and it slows down the shutdown process enormously.

This was first published in September 2004

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