The weekly department store flyers have arrived and a new computer has piqued your interest. One consideration that gets overlooked in the euphoria of the new purchase is what to do with the old personal computer (PC). Are you vulnerable if the personal information on your computer gets into nefarious hands?
After a new computer purchase, the old PC or laptop plays a role. You will be busy moving the content from the old machine to the new machine. Music MP3’s, pictures jpeg’s and the numerous .doc’s along with a number of spreadsheet files will need to be mined and moved. If you have a financial application you use to manage a home budget, you will need to move those data files also.
The computer electronics sit side by side while the need to transfer exists. Slowly, the symbiotic relationship fades and the old Internet workhorse is released from its cable tethers and moved to another pasture.
It’s now April of a new year and you realize you require the previous year’s income tax files that you didn’t transfer. The old grey mare is pulled from storage, harnessed with cables to retrieve the particulars. This transfer exercise will save you the time from entering all the pertinent data, like your spouse’s birthday, which you can never seem to remember.
Putting the old PC back into storage is not an option this time. If you decide to give up the computer to recycling or repurpose it, you need to ensure all your personal data has been removed. One solution is to give the computer over to Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN), free erasure software designed for consumer use.
Deleting files, formatting the hard drive or reloading the operating system doesn’t erase the hard drive data, it just alters the book keeping that points to the data. Without the books the operating system doesn’t know how to retrieve the data but the data is still there. Think of it as removing the table of contents from a book. The chapters and words are still in the book, you just have to do your own sorting to find them.
According to most standards organizations, including governments, there are only three methods of ensuring there is no data on a hard drive. Erase hard drives using recognized data destruction software, use an electronic degausser to erase hard drive or physically destroy the hard drive.
DBAN is free software that can be used by consumers to clean hard drives. There are limitations to the free software the are described on the website. With this method, the drive is reusable. The degausser alters the magnetic recording on a hard drive. The process eliminates the factory setting data rendering the drive unusable. Destroying the drive is just that. There are industrial machines that will shred the drive like a paper shredder. Creating a hole in the hard disk by driving a nail through the platters or scratching the platters with sand paper makes them unreadable.
PC’s may contain personal data. It is important for the consumer to keep that data secure. When deciding what to do with old computers, put some effort into eliminating the exposure of your personal data.