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Home » Information Tech, Life & Times

Wipe That Data Before You Give It Away!

Submitted by on December 4, 2011 2 Comments
data protection

A short time ago, a friend of mine picked up a few spare hard drives.  He was looking for older model hard drives to put on the shelf for when his low-priority legacy servers’ hard drives die.  When he got back to the office, he dropped the hard drives into a computer to test and wipe them.  While chatting last week, he told me he found a tremendous amount of Very Personal information on the hard disks from financial, tax, and medical records to what appeared to be personal intimate photography.  The prior owner of the hard disks probably upgraded their computer but did not delete the files before they gave their computer to someone else. Can you say, “bad idea!”

Donating your computer to a school, charity, or friend is awesome, but you must make sure that your information is securely erased.  I am sure most people do not realize that deleting files or running a quick format of a disk does not prevent the contents of the disk from being recovered!  There are very inexpensive applications that will complete this type of data recovery for even a novice user.  Never, ever, give a computer away without first wiping the hard disk completely.  Remember, deleting files does not actually “delete” anything.  It simply tells the computer that area on the storage media is available to be overwritten by another file when needed. 

There are many applications that can complete a disk wipe, but the one I use is called CCleaner.  In the tools’ section of CCleaner, you will find an option called “Drive Wiper.”  Select the hard disk that you wish to wipe, and then choose the entire drive and the security level of complex 7-pass overwrite.  This will make sure that even an IT professional cannot recover information from the disk.  For the truly security concerned person, you can use the very complex overwrite feature, which uses a 35-pass overwrite.  It is very important that you do not accidentally select a disk that has information on it that you wish to keep (like your “C” drive)!

I cannot stress the importance enough of wiping your hard drive before giving your computer away.  Your personal identity is too important to trust to anyone.  Remember that these rules apply to all forms of storage media and not just internal hard disk drives.  Think about USB “thumb” drives (USB sticks if you prefer) or even CD/DVD discs that you burned with backed-up data.  How many people a day lend others there USB drives, but is that safe?

Make sure that everything that has any of your personal information on it is wiped or destroyed permanently.  Keeping your information safe and out of the hands of nefarious individuals is your responsibility so do not give them easy access.

(Note: I have no affiliation to CCleaner or the developers of the application. I receive NO compensation or consideration for this post.)

2 Comments

  • Mike – great advice. I am just about to give my trusty old Dell XPS170 to a local school, and I need to make sure it is clean!

    I’ve used CCleaner before and it works a treat. As does performing a HD reformat in the BIOS.

    Simon

    • Hi Simon,

      I forgot about the BIOS format option, and that is a great suggestion. Thank you!

      I was a little humbled about everything I found on my own old hard disks. It had my family’s whole digital life over the years. I could not imagine just turning that over to someone and hoping that they would delete it!

      I get calls from computer recyclers all the time, and this is a service they push. I ask all of them why I should trust them to do this most critical step in information security, and they line goes quiet for a few moments…that is enough for me. We wipe before we release.

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