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Protecting data when disposing of your old computer
How to remove personal information from your old PC
Alan Morris
Published: June 2006

You’ve just purchased a new computer and now it’s time to retire or pass on the old workhorse. Many people simply take the old PC to the tip or pass on to a friend or local school. However before doing so there are some precautions you should take to ensure your personal information does not travel with it, exposing your privacy or even opening a risk of identy theft.

Even if you are passing on to friends or family your  data may still be at risk when they come to dispose of it.  Many people are unaware that deleting a file from your PC is not enough. Deleting a file will mean it’s not visible but an identity thief may still be able to recover them. Until that section of the hard disk is re-written the data is still physically there and can be read with the right software tools.

Removing Data
If you don’t mind a bit of DIY and are taking your Computer to the tip or recycle centre then the easiest option and one that is often overlooked is to simply remove the hard disk.

For older computers you will need a screwdriver but many newer ones just require opening a couple of clips, catches or thumb screws. Once removed you can keep the hard disk at home as a backup of your previous data or destroy the disk with a hammer or screwdriver. This option won’t suit everyone although you may find it to be quite therapeutic if your old PCs been misbehaving. If you have particularly sensitive data then this is the one sure way no one will ever read it again.

 

To remove your hard disk
Disconnect the power.
Open the case and disconnect the data and power cables to the drive. (just pull them out) 
Remove retaining screws or clips
Slide out the drive and store

 Options for securing your data when disposing of your PC

  • Disk destroying or removal
    • Pros: Quick and easy if the computers not going to be used again
    • Cons: Need to get the tools out, computer can’t be reused.
  • Disk Cleaning – This is a process whereby you delete any personal data and then use a disk cleaning utility to clean areas of the disk where this data was stored.
    • Pros: Fairly painless when passing on to close friend of family member.
    • Cons: Difficult to be sure you have deleted all files
  • Disk Wiping – Here the disk is completely wiped clean. This works well but will mean that Windows and other programs will need to be reinstalled if it is to be reused.
    • Pros: Good if you are donating to charity or a school where they have a technician to rebuild software.
    • Cons: Time consuming and difficult if you need to reinstall software yourself.
  • Factory Restore - Some computers come with a factory restore disk or utility which allows you to set your computer back to how you received it. Although this method may delete all data different utilities work in different ways. To be absolutely sure run Sure delete on the new installation.
    • Pros: Best method if available and the computer is to be reused.
    • Cons: no point if it’s going to the tip
  • Local Computer Shop - Take your PC to a reputable local computer shop / repair centre and ask for the work to be done there.
    • Pros: All work completed with little or no work and no technical knowledge necessary.
    • Cons: Expensive and possibly mixed results depending on the shop.

Files you should remove before disposing of your computer

  • All Documents (remember other users My Documents if you have multiple users on Windows)
  • Email Messages and Contacts
  • Temporary files
  • Internet History, files and favourites
  • Recycle Bin files. Remember to empty the recycle bin!
  • Uninstall software and delete files. Some older programs like Money or Family tree programs store data in their own program files directory and even after uninstall will leave the folder and data files behind. For these you need to manually look through the programs installation directory (usually in program files) and manually delete the files.

Once you have deleted all files, you will then need to run Sure Delete – Disk cleaner. This will clean all empty space and ensure that deleted files cannot be recovered. Download this free utility from the link below. Sure Delete can be run at anytime to clean area of the disk.

Free Windows disk-cleaning utilities

  • Sure Delete – Cleans files and empty space on the disk
  • Active Kill Disk  – Cleans disk (wipes everything)
  • Disk Cleaner – Cleans disk (wipes everything)
 

 

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