How to Get Rid of the Data on that Old Computer

Since computers have become mainstream in everybody’s home since 2000, it is not uncommon today for people to have 2 or 3 computers in their homes. Today, computers in the home are looked upon as throwaway appliances. When the life cycle of the computer is finished, the user will either throw the computer in the attic (or closet) to collect cobwebs; discard it in the garbage; or, if still useable, will hand it down (or sell it) to someone else.

During the ownership of our computers we are constantly reminded of the security and privacy threats; and will go to great extremes to protect the data on our PC’s from prying eyes. What we forget is that this type of proactive attitude should not stop when the life cycle of the computer has been completed. From my experience I have seen a very high percentage of people discard a PC with their data still intact on the hard drive. Even if the computer is no longer functioning, the data is still there!  Even if you are being proactive and formatted the hard drive, the data is still there!

What type of data am I referring to?  Well, the list is long, but here are some examples of what you may be giving away when you are finished with that PC:

  • Passwords and access to online accounts (like your bank, credit card, social sites, web mail, etc.)
  • Email Accounts, Email Addresses and Personal Emails
  • Personal (and sometimes) sensitive photographs
  • Personal Documents (such as tax forms, letters, finances, documents from work, etc.)
  • Software Licenses (that you purchased and own)
  • Music or Movie Collection (that you legally own)

In today’s world, data theft is commonplace and software to extract (already deleted data) is available freely on the internet. I cannot emphasize this enough; when you are finished with that PC you must continue to be proactive and find ways to make sure the PC is clean before transferring it elsewhere. Here are several options that you can choose from:

  • Have the hard drive removed and the data professionally eradicated (destroyed), professionally degaussed (demagnetized) or professionally shredded (like shrapnel).  All of these options are at cost; however, you will (or should) be provided with certification that your data is now non-existent.
  • Remove the hard drive and destroy the hard drive yourself.  Drill holes in it, use it for target practice, flatten it with a sledge hammer, etc…  There is no certification with this process and yes there is the possibility that James Bond 007 could extract data from the drive (but this is highly unlikely, unless you are a person of interest).
  • Use data eradication software.  This option is a good option for the home based user; AND, the good news is that there are several FREE software products (see below) that are available.

Hard Drive Eraser

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Hard Drive Eraser is free Windows application that permanently erase the data on whole volumes (hard drives). It does so by filling the magnetic surface multiple time with a useless binary data. It is a known fact that it is impossible to permanently destroy data just by formatting hard drive.

PC Disk Eraser

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PCDiskEraser enables you to easily, quickly and permanently erase all data that is personal, confidential and critical on your hard drive – and has the capability to erase to both U.S. Department of Defense 5220.22 and German Military Government standards.

Active@ Kill Disk

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Active@ KillDisk – Hard Drive Eraser is powerful and compact software that allows you to destroy all data on hard and floppy drives completely, excluding any possibility of future recovery of deleted files and folders. It’s a hard drive and partition eraser utility.

Eraser

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Eraser is an advanced security tool for Windows which allows you to completely remove sensitive data from your hard drive by overwriting it several times with carefully selected patterns.

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17 Responses to How to Get Rid of the Data on that Old Computer

  1. Bill Mullins says:

    Rick,

    A couple of years back, as part of my commitment to giving back to my community, I refurbished 30 or so PCs, from a social services agency, which were to be given to less fortunate families.

    All of the Hard Drives still had significant amounts of confidential information in readable form.

    I’ve been around too long to be shocked, but it was close. A truly negligent situation.

    The worse part was, this organization’s IT people were absolutely clueless, when it came to wiping a Hard Drive.

    Your article should prove to be an eye opener for many. Well done.

    Bill

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Bill,

      I can totally relate to what you have indicated. I worked as one of those IT people in a State Government agency. It was not uncommon to see a PC go to surplus and ultimately out to the public (for personal use) and the data was still on the drive. Eventually, as computers evolved and the internet came into play, data eradication guidelines were put into place; however, the eradication process was left to the IT people (such as myself). The problem with that was that many of the IT people were overwhelmed (or just plain lazy) and did not follow the guidelines. The State eventually hired a contractor to shred the drives and any other media and the IT people were required to maintain a paper trail from the beginning to the end of the PC’s life cycle. The problem I saw with that is that many of the IT people shelved the PC’s until they could get to them.

      Another story was a PC I had come across where a person had trashed the machine and wanted help recovering files. During the tedious file recovery process, with the person at my side, a pic of this persons wife came up and needless to say it was not good. Many people send their PC’s out to techs with tons of data on them… That in itself is not good…

      Would be nice to hear if any other stories out there…

      Rick

  2. g says:

    My favorite is Dericks Boot and nuke.

    • Ramblinrick says:

      G,

      That is one I absolutely forgot to mention and is definitely worth mentioning. Darik’s Boot and Nuke can be downloaded from [HERE].

      Thank you for bringing this to our attention…

      Rick

      • g says:

        I used Darik’s when I formatted my previous XP system.

        I felt like I was doing covert government data intelligence removal lol

  3. Frank says:

    Government people seem to be the most careless of all.
    Years back I bought several units at a auction (This was during our early Windows and DOS (Long Live DOS) Days. They did not even bother to wipe the drives, just eraser command com. Imagine what I saw on some of the hard drives!!!!!

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Frank,

      Thanks for visiting the blog… Hopefully in today’s world the Government has addressed these issues. If not, we’re all in trouble! You are right on how careless things were at the time…

      Rick

  4. Adrian says:

    I could easily remember the days when the only way (free) to destroy the data on a hard drive was to… put it in the oven? NO. Drill holes in it? Too difficult. Target practice? I don’t need to do target practice.

    So what do I do? I put it in the bath together with myself and put a magnet next to the drive. Done!

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Adrian,

      Wonder what temp to cook the hard drive? : ) Yes, drilling holes through the drive… That was exactly our instruction we were given to destroy a drive years ago. Was a real pain; especially when you had quite a few of them…

      Rick

  5. techpaul says:

    I would like to remind your readers that the rock-solid advice contained here extends to any about-to-be-discarded/donated device that helpfully “remembers” things for — cell phones & PDA’s, for example — and their SIM (or “memory”) cards.

    And .. the “service” route (having a tech do it for you) does not always cost, or is sometimes included in a “recycling fee” — though I would expect that to be easier to find if you deal with small, independent Techs, such as myself…

    Very nice article Rick, that hopefully will save a few folks from the nightmare that is recovering from Identity Theft. I tip my hat, sir.

  6. Martin says:

    I think it’s a bit of a shame when hard drives are physically destroyed (with some life left in them). A 7 pass software wipe is good enough (unless, as you say, you’re a ‘person of interest’, in which case you probably have bigger problems anyway).

    But as we’re discussing physical damage… thermite is a highly recommended method, spectacular too!. If you’re not happy with that, an electric arc welder will happily destroy the platters, plus the enormous EM field will destroy anything the welder itself misses!

    The mention of thermite hopefully won’t get me to be a ‘person of interest’

  7. Pureinfotech says:

    Great information! thanks for sharing.
    I did a similar article, because I think that people don’t know the risks when getting rid of their computers.

    Here is my article: http://pureinfotech.com/2010/08/07/how-to-safely-get-rid-of-your-old-computer-while-protecting-your-data/

  8. […] What’s On My PC How to Get Rid of the Data on that Old Computer […]

  9. […] PC, Format Hard Drive: A How To Guide by Webopedia.com Some links to 3rd party cleaning software How to Get Rid of the Data on that Old Computer What's On My PC I'm sure this day in age if you can retrieve info from a pc/mac you can a phone. Food for thought. […]

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