Most people wouldn’t get rid of their credit cards, Social Security cards or even sensitive paper documents by throwing them out or tossing them in the trash. Yet careful souls across the globe continue to fill landfills with millions of old computers containing exactly that kind of sensitive information, in the process exposing themselves to aggressive high-tech criminals.
Latest statistics indicate that computers are being mined by the millions for bank statements, business documents, Social Security numbers, scandalous pictures and information, credit card details and numerous other tidbits that open the door for everything from full-on identity theft to credit card fraud and even blackmail.
No one needs to be a victim. Here is how you can protect your personal data when you are scrapping or passing your computer or computer related technology, such as external hard drive or USB stick, along to someone else.
Back up your data
Begin the process by copying all of the important data you will need in the future somewhere safe. This can be on your new computer or storage device. Be sure that the storage device is capable of storing all of the data that you need to back up. You may also opt to back up your data in the cloud. Cloud backup strategy involves sending a copy of your data over a public network to an off-site server.
In addition, try to be as safe as possible if you are transferring or emailing them to an online backup, such as cloud storage, especially if you are doing so on the go or in a public setting.
Permanently erase your data
Simply moving your files into the trash or recycle bin and emptying it isn’t enough to permanently delete them. In fact, when you place files in the recycle bin, you are simply marking them to be written over. And unless they are written over, the files remain on the computer’s hard drive. That means anyone who gets hold of your computer can retrieve them using advanced techniques such as hard disk forensic analysis.
For ultimate safety, you need to wipe your drive with a dedicated file deletion software or program, or physically destroy the hard drive to render it useless. Programs such as WipeDrive V5, Nova Drive Erase Pro, CCleaner or Darik’s Boot and Nuke—a DBAN—will overwrite all sectors on your hard drive making data unrecoverable.
Please note that destroying the hard drive isn’t simply throwing it away—it needs to be literally broken up. Hammering or axing the drive should do the job (with much more fun), but if you are unsure of how you’ll dump the metal and plastic pieces in an environmentally-friendly manner, seeking the services of a disposal facility or a computer security firm that uses industrial-size shredders to grind the drive to nothing, might be a good idea.
Encrypt your files
Setting up encryption on your hard drive can also help to protect your data while disposing of your computer. Encryption secures all your files, including both current files and deleted files. PC owners can encrypt with the BitLocker feature built into Professional versions of Windows or opt for the TrueCrypt that is compatible with all versions of Windows.
Encrypted files require an encryption passphrase to open or be accessed. And because the passphrase will be saved to your hard drive in encrypted form and only available when you sign on, the key won’t work if you are signed out or if the screen lock is on.
Try to self-recover your erased files
One way you can be sure that your drive was properly wiped out is by using a file-recovery program to test whether or not you can recover any erased files from your drive. A file recovery program will scan external or internal hard drives for erased files, display information about them, and allow users to recover them.
If your drives were thoroughly wiped, the recovery program should find no files you can recover. File recovery software was designed to execute the same sort of trick an attacker would employ to retrieve your data.
It is completely important to wipe out all the private and confidential data present on your drive such as Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and even pictures before disposing of your computer or PC. It’s is the only way you will be protected from attackers looking to prey on you.