I have a couple of old computers I want to give away or recycle since I don’t use them anymore. I know I shouldn’t just trash them, but I want to know the best way to completely wipe off old files and documents on them. My friend told me that people can steal my personal information off of my computers if I don’t erase it correctly.
– Cynthia Brown, New York City, NY, USA
Your friend is correct; wiping off old data on a computer you are about the recycle or give away is very important. Many people don’t realize the risks they take when they let that information get into the wrong hands, even if you think you are properly recycling your electronics.
Our managing director Talia Whyte recently added new information about this issue in the second edition of her Recharge E-waste.
“The issue of cyber attacks is one of the most challenging economic and security issues happening globally right now,” she said recently. “Millions of old computers and mobiles are dumped in landfills that have not been properly erased of sensitive data ranging from family photos to credit card or bank statements to even confidential government contracts. Cyber criminals scrounge through the trash to lift this data off of disposed electronics that is later used in scams and hackings.”
Here is a short Frontline documentary on the topic:
In regards to deleting data off your old electronics, here are three easy things you can do:
1. Completely back up everything – The first thing you should do is to back up all your files, music, photos, videos etc onto either an external hard drive or a very secure cloud service like DropBox, Google Drive, SkyDrive or iCloud. You have to determine how much space you need to back up because external hard drives can range from US$30 to US$200 and sizes ranging from 30GB to 3TB. Also, most cloud services have “freemium” accounts for a small amount of space and then there are different price plans for larger sizes.
2. Cancel or deauthorize accounts – If you use any programs like iTunes, Amazon Prime or Adobe that require a regular subscription, you need to deauthorize your accounts on your computer. Likewise, if there are subscriptions you don’t use anymore, this might be a good time to cancel them.
3. Reformat your hard drive OR destroy your drive – It is a pretty simple process. We found some really good instructions on how to do it at Lifehacker – step by step. However, no matter how much cleaning and re-formatting you do, a cyber criminal with very sophisticated tools can still figure out a way to get your data. The only way to get rid of data on your computer is to literally destroy your drive with a hammer. If you go down this route, make sure you take safety measures like wearing gloves and eye protection. You can take the shattered materials to your local recycler.
Got a question for us? Send it to info(at)globalwireonline(dot)org with “Ask Global Wire Associates” in the subject line.