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a hard drive that has been securely erased
Posted on August 10, 2016 by in Data Breach & Technology, Identity & Privacy, Personal

When you get a new smartphone, laptop or tablet, it’s likely that you’re making sure to transfer files over from your soon-to-be-former devices to get up to speed quickly. But what about the information you’re leaving behind?

Even “secure trash” settings don’t wipe everything, and that’s a huge problem.

Scammers around the world are buying up second-hand technology because so much of it still contains personal information. In an investigation, a U.K. newspaper bought three used computers that had all been re-formatted to remove data. But a cybersecurity firm was able to quickly pull information on previous owners, including password and banking log-ins. One computer even had a scanned copy of a passport.

Even if you decide to keep an old laptop, tablet or smartphone, you could be putting yourself at risk if the device is lost or stolen. To be safe whether you’re selling off, handing down or storing away, follow these tips for securely erasing hard drives:

  • Use a software eraser: The most affordable way to securely erase a hard drive is by using an application that’s designed for the purpose. These programs don’t “shred” data in the way that an actual shredder destroys paper. Instead, they overwrite the data numerous times until it just looks like nonsense. Before doing this, or any other tactic to wipe data, make sure you don’t need any of the data on the drive. It’s much easier to wipe a whole computer or device than to selectively overwrite some files and not others.
  • Get a device: If you have several drives to erase, it may be worth making more of an investment for a device that’s built for the job. These standalone devices are very simple, and about the size of a deck of cards. But they offer a powerful way to quickly and securely erase hard drives. Best of all, they are often easier to use than software, and applicable for several types of drives. But they do cost more than software and you may need to purchase an adapter as well.

If you really don’t want the technology at all, even to donate, you may want to go with the most dramatic option: destroying the hard drive. This can involve a DIY option where you use brute force to take the drive apart and smash it with a hammer. There are also secure hard drive destruction services in many cities, but they’re usually geared toward business customers.

Whether you team up with colleagues to create a “data smash” day or decide to make your technology into a hand-me-down after all, make the effort to securely erase hard drives to keep your old information from becoming a new problem.