The Safest Way to Dispose of Old Computers
Disposing of old computers requires a lot more than just deleting files. If not done properly, your information can be at risk of theft. Here are the top three things you should know about getting rid of your computer: understanding your hard drive, how to clean a hard drive, and how to dispose of your computer.
Understand Your Hard Drive
Computers often hold sensitive information containing:
- account numbers
- license keys or registration numbers for software programs
- addresses and phone numbers
- medical and prescription information
- tax returns
- files created automatically by browsers and operating systems
Now that you’re aware of all the personal and financial information held on your computer, let’s talk about what happens to those files on your hard drive. When files are saved, particularly large ones, they are scattered around and broken up into bits and pieces on the hard drive. When you’re ready to open a file, the hard drive gathers the bits and pieces and reconfigures them.
When files are deleted, the links to reconfigure the file disappear. However, those bits and pieces still remain on your computer until they are overwritten, and they can be retrieved with a data recovery program. This is why it is important to wipe your hard drive clean, as it is the only permanent way to remove data.
How to Clean a Hard Drive
Before you wipe your hard drive clean, save the files you want to keep to:
- a USB drive
- a CDRom
- an external hard drive
- a new computer
Information on saving data or transferring it to a new computer can typically be found in the owner’s manual, the manufacturer’s website, or through customer support.
When you’re ready to clean your hard drive, search for utility programs. Luckily, they are available both online and in stores where computers are sold. These programs are also generally inexpensive; some are even available on the internet for free. These programs can vary in two ways:
- Some erase the entire disk, while others allow you to select files or folders to erase.
- Some overwrite or wipe the hard drive many times, while others overwrite it only once.
For the best result, consider using a program that overwrites or wipes the hard drive many times; otherwise, the deleted information could be retrieved. Or try it the old school way and remove the hard drive, and physically destroy it.
If you use your home or personal computer for business purposes, check with your employer about how to manage the information on your computer that’s business-related. The law requires businesses to follow data security and disposal requirements for certain information that’s related to customers.
How to Dispose of Your Computer
Once all your information is securely saved on your new device or permanently wiped from your hard drive, you can now dispose of your old computer with a peace of mind - knowing your data isn’t at risk.
Many computer manufacturers have programs to recycle computers and components. Check their websites or call their toll-free numbers for more information. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has information about electronic product recycling programs. Your local community may have a recycling program, too. Check with your county or local government, including the local landfill office for regulations.
Many organizations collect old computers and donate them to charities.
Some people and organizations buy old computers. Check online.
More importantly, when disposing of your device, remember that most computer equipment contains hazardous materials that don’t belong in a landfill. For example, many computers have heavy metals that can contaminate the earth. The EPA recommends that you check with your local health and sanitation agencies for ways to dispose of electronics safely.
For more useful security tips to help you protect your personal information, visit www.ftc.gov.
Source: Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information: "Disposing of Old Computers" - September 2011