Removing Your Personal Data Before Disposing of a PC

This article originally appeared in “The Danville Tech Guy” column 6/4/2012 on the Danville Patch.

This weeks Danville Tech Guy question comes from Patch Reader Mrs. G. She asked:

“What’s the best way to remove your personal data before disposing of a PC?” -Mrs. G

This is a great question and I am happy that you asked in Mrs. G. We are all storing so much personal information on our computers these days. The loss of a computer could have a significant impact on our privacy and open us up to identity theft and a host of other problems. There are a number of options to ensure that our private information does not become compromised when we dispose of a computer. Based on skill, I am going to suggest three options.

  1. Use a disposal company that can provide you with a certificate of data destruction.
  2. Remove the hard drive and store it in a safe place.
  3. Run a disk wiping utility that destroys the data.

Data DestructionUsing a disposal company that can provide a certificate of data destruction (for novices).

We use a local e-waste company (E-Waste Direct) they and some other firms can provide a certificate of data destruction for the computers they recycle on your behalf. This is the easiest way to avoid having your data get into the wrong hands but you are relying on a third party to do so. Be very cautious and research the company’s reputation before selecting this option. Chances are if they don’t know what a certificate of data destruction is you should keep looking, and that is the first question I would recommend you ask.

Removing and storing the hard drive(s) (novice and up)

Depending on how the computer was designed this can be simple to difficult to do. Hard disks have a very distinct appearance (you can see examples here) and usually have zero (tool-less) to 4 screws. Since you are disposing of the computer do not worry about harming it. The recyclers are going to take it apart anyway.

Using a disk wiping utility (for professionals)

If you know how to create disk images using an ISO file then this moderately more difficult option is very effective at sanitizing a hard disk by completely wiping all data off of it. Most professionals use this method but it can be difficult. There is a free program called dban or Darik’s Boot and Nuke (www.dban.org). If you download the ISO file they provide and boot from the Dban CDROM you can automatically wipe or “nuke” any hard drives in the computer.

Figure out which method works best for you and don’t hesitate to do a little more research and ask more questions Mrs. G. – Joe

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Data Destruction image compliments of Robert Emperley, Creative Commons.

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