A survey by the ICO discovered that over 10% of second hand computers contained personal information.
Researchers purchased second-hand computers online and were staggered by the number of computers that contained personal information, emails and pre-saved internet passwords. What’s more, some held enough personal data so as to allow identity theft.
PCs store all sorts of stuff these days, in addition to your photos and documents there’s your email (and it’s settings), your browsing history and probably a while bunch of passwords held in cookies or the browser’s keyring.
As such, the advice from everywhere is clear, when you decide to dispose of a computer make sure you delete all your data, and delete it properly. If you’re not exactly sure how to do this, here are a few pointers…
The first, simplest and most enjoyable, method is to physically ensure your data can’t be used. For most PCs this means removing the hard drive and having a few minutes of destructive fun with some screwdrivers and a big hammer. Don’t get carried away though, you only need to remove the hard drive, so the rest can still be sold – albeit at a lower price with your worries in tact. If you want to sell the full computer, or give it away a member of the family or a friend then distraction is not a good option, unless you buy a new drive.
Completely wiping the drive comes in a good second. With this method a software programme is used to fill every data storing part of the drive with guff data. One programme that I have previously used fills the drive with ’1′s, then ’0′s and then repeats this cycle 3 times. For larger drives, this will take an eternity but it does work and will certainly erase your data. ‘Boot and Nuke’ and ‘kill disk’ are popular software tools for wiping disks, but there are many out there. Some are free and some not.
If you are determined and don’t think you have the skill yourself, then there are specialist (and non-specialist) companies that can undertake the task for you. However, it does mean giving your drive to someone – which may introduce another risk. So it would probably be easier and cheaper to destroy the drive and buy a new one.
If you are selling or giving the PC away, you will need to re-install the operating system. So go hunt the original media you received or created when you get the PC.
Oh, and without teaching granny to suck eggs, don’t forget too back up or transfer your data first…