I was driving on my road Saturday morning, and some kids tried to get me to go to a yard sale across the street from their house. They were jumping up and down with signs … the only way to get customers on a country road like mine.
I started thinking about all the things sold at yard sales, including old computers. The problem is old computers sometimes contain not-so-old data that can still be used for identity theft.
Before you get rid of your computer for any reason (selling it, giving it away, man this thing is old), you need to take a few steps to protect yourself and your patients from the bad guys. The options are presented are in order from safe to acceptable.
Option 1: Remove the hard drive — The safest option is to remove the hard drive before getting rid of the computer. It can be recycled as an external drive for holding your photos, videos, etc by purchasing a drive enclosure from your local computer store and formatting the drive, or it can be physically destroyed (like shredding a document, only bigger – a real stress reliever). The new owner can always purchase a new hard drive. Some might consider this option a bit extreme, but for the ultra-safe, this option is best, and identity theft is a serious matter.
Option 2: Overwrite the entire hard drive before reformatting it — Even if you delete the files on a computer they can still be recovered using specialized software. That’s because the operating system doesn’t really delete the data. It only deletes the references to it, thus freeing up the space for future data. Until that space is reused, your data can still be recovered. This arrangement can be a lifesaver if you accidentally delete that picture of your favorite aunt. For overwriting, I’ve used a free program called Darik’s Boot and Nuke (www.dban.org) but you can search for other programs, both free and commercial, to get the job done.
Option 3: Reinstall the operating system — This option is not as safe as Option 2 because some data can still be recovered using software available for free on the Internet, but if you’re giving the computer to your mother then it’s fine. Most computers come with recovery disks that allow you to return the computer to factory state. The process reformats the hard disk then reinstalls the operating system. The next time the computer is started it goes through the new computer setup process.
Option 4: Reformat the hard drive — This option is the least safe of the options presented here. As stated in Option 3, the data can be recovered with software that is freely available on the Internet, but depending on intended recipient of the computer this option can be acceptable.
Regardless of what you decide to do, the word of the day is “protection.” You must protect the sensitive data on the computer you’re about to dispose of. Only you can determine how far you need to go to ensure that protection.
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