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Technology Tip

Technology Tip
Dave Pelland has extensive experience covering the business use of technology, networking and communications tools by companies of all sizes. Dave's editorial and corporate experience includes more than 10 years editing an electronic technology and communications industry newsletter for a global professional services firm.

Disposing of Digital Equipment Safely

Disposing of Digital Equipment Safely

The ongoing rush of technological innovation means most companies replace their electronic gear on a regular basis, but it’s important to make sure you’re not exposing company and customer data as you dispose of outdated equipment.

Before you get rid of computers and other devices, it’s important to remove your company’s information to mitigate the risk of that data being recovered by hackers and used to expose your customers or employees to identity theft and other forms of fraud.

Passwords, account numbers, addresses, tax information and financial data are among the types of information that can be recovered from discarded computers and phones relatively easily, even if the user has deleted files from the device before getting rid of it.

Before eliminating data from your old equipment, you’ll naturally want to transfer it to your new device. There are a variety of programs to help you speed this process. It’s a good idea to first back up your old device, either to external drives or to a cloud backup service, to reduce the risk of data being lost or corrupted during the transfer process.

Safe Disposal

The steps you take to eliminate data from outdated electronics gear will depend, in part, on how you plan to dispose of it. If you’re going to donate a computer to a charity, for instance, you’ll be less aggressive in removing data than if you want to drop the computer at a recycling center.

At a minimum, you’ll need to remove company and personal data from the hard drive. Simply deleting a file doesn’t actually remove that data — deleting a file just lets the operating system know that sector on the drive is available for future data. This means the original data can be recovered with a disk utility program.

To remove data safely, you need to use software that’s going to overwrite your files with random data several times to make sure your information can’t be recovered later.

It’s also a good idea to delete your browsing history and to remove any installed software to reduce the risk of sensitive information, such as passwords, that has been stored within your software’s settings or data caches.

For additional safety, you may consider formatting the hard drive, which erases all of its data, and reinstalling the operating system before giving your computer away.

Physical Destruction

If you’re not planning to donate your computer for someone else to use, the safest way to prevent someone from recovering data is to damage the hard drive physically.

Check the manufacturer’s website for instructions on how to remove the hard drive. Once removed, you can drill holes into the drive or, in a less subtle approach, smash it with a hammer until the shiny platters inside are broken. This will make the drive impossible to read, and nobody will be able to recover data from the damaged platters.

Once you’ve removed the hard drive, check with your local transfer station to see their rules for accepting discarded electronics. Some will accept electronics, while others may require you to drop your device at a regional recycling center.

Most computer manufacturers and retailers also have recycling programs where you can send, or drop off, used equipment in exchange for a discount on a new device.

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