Have you ever thrown away an old mobile device after you got a new one? How about a computer? Have you ever sold them to someone else? Maybe recycled them? If you have done any of the above, you likely did it before you took the time to securely erase your hard drive, and that puts you at great risk.
A new study from the National Association for Information Destruction found that about 40% of the electronic devices available for sale second-hand has personal information on them. This includes tablets, hard drives, and mobile phones.
The data recovered included passwords, usernames, credit card info, and even tax information. To make things even more frightening, the information was collected by using basic methods; methods almost anyone can use.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do.
Preparing Your Devices for Resale or Recycling
If you are going to sell an electronic device, or even recycle it, you have to take steps to ensure you are safe and securely erase your hard drive. The absolute first thing you should do is back up the data on there, and then wipe the device.
If you have a Mac, use the OS X Disk Utility, and if you have a PC, use a program like Active KillDisk. For smartphones, use a program like Biancco Mobile, do a factory reset and remove the SIM card. Though it sounds dramatic, if you are just going to throw the device away, smash it with a hammer. This way, no one can access the information if they find it in the trash. But you should still recycle the guts.
Formatting Your Drives
If you have a flash drive or external drive that you have recently purchased, you should format those to get rid of extra software, too. Here are the steps:
- Plug the device into your computer.
- Open up Windows Explorer, and then locate the drive.
- Right-click that drive and choose “Format.”
- Choose the file system you want, and then under the “Volume Label,” click “Quick Format” before hitting “Start.”
- Go to the computer’s Finder, click Applications/Utilities, and then click the Disk Utility option.
- Click on the drive, and then “Erase.”
- Choose “Format,” select the file system, and name the drive.
- Click “Erase” and you are ready to roll.
Securely Formatting a Computers Hard Drive
Formatting a hard drive is a bit more complex. To start, you will need a CD or USB drive, and your goal is to totally wipe the device. When you do this, you will then need to reinstall the OS by using the CD or USB drive.
Again, the most important part about this is to back up your data before you even start.
For Mac, just select the option on your computer to install from scratch, and this erases the drive. For Windows, you will have to use Windows Installer and then choose the “Drive Options” option. Click “Format,” and then “Next,” and Windows will be installed.
Even after all this is done, it might be still possible for someone with the right tools to extract data. This is why vigilance is key, and why I continually suggest further securing your identity with a credit freeze and an identity theft protection service.