Remove Personal Data when Recycling Computers, Smartphones and Tablets
Almost daily, we hear in the news about data breaches where hackers have accessed personal information stored on computers around the world. While most of these cases occur on large servers owned by major websites, our individual PCs, laptops, notebooks, and even cell phones and tablets also contain sensitive data. Identity theft and the compromise of sensitive information are always on our minds. When we decommission a computer or other data-storing device after purchasing a new model, all of the private data stored on the old device remains in place. Before disposing of or recycling any computer or other electronic equipment, it’s essential that such personal data not get into the wrong hands.
The Internet has transformed how California residents and people around the world use their computers. More data is stored in more places than ever before. What kind of data? Our computers, smartphones and tablets now connect us directly to our banks, credit card agencies, and online retail outlets, among other things. We can withdraw money from the bank and purchase almost anything. We trust the businesses we connect to on the Internet to safeguard our personal data, and use increasingly secure passwords and other protective measures to prevent others from gaining the access we value so highly. Much of that data is also stored on our own computers, smart phones and tablets. Anyone who can access the computer or other device can log in to the bank, retailers and others, since we often enable automatic password memory. Before you turn over your data-storing devices for recycling or disposal, it’s essential that all such information be completely removed from the equipment. Here are some of the ways to do that:
Safe Ways to Completely Safeguard Your Personal Data
While it’s possible to delete data from hard drives and other memory on computers, that’s simply not enough. Using readily available computer software, it’s easy and simple to access those deleted files. Identity thieves are experts at rooting out your personal data if it has been deleted. Even formatting a hard drive often doesn’t actually destroy the data on the drive. Here’s what you can do to make sure your valuable data cannot be accessed by anyone:
- Physically Remove and Store Hard Drives – For most desktop PCs and laptops hard drives can quickly be removed after opening the case of the computer. Simple hand tools, available at any hardware store, let you unplug and unscrew the fasteners. You can then store the hard drive safely and recycle the rest of the computer. If you don’t feel competent to remove your hard drive, any computer service business can do it for you for a nominal charge. The benefit of this strategy is that the data still exists and can be recovered later by a technician, if necessary.
- Physically Destroy Hard Drives after Removal – After removing the hard drive from your computer, as described above, you can physically destroy it or have a technician disassemble the drive and destroy the internal data disks for you. Major data destruction companies, which you can find through an Internet search for shredding or data destruction companies, can also physically destroy the hard drive securely, making your data completely unrecoverable.
- Use Data Wiping Software – If the computer you’re recycling or discarding is still operational, you can download special software that is designed to destroy all data on the hard drive. It does this by overwriting the entire hard drive multiple times with nonsense characters, making the data unreadable. Such software can be found free or at low cost from many Internet sources. Just search for “data destruction software” on Google, Yahoo or Bing.
- Do a Hard Reset on Portable Devices – For cell phones, tablets, and other handheld devices, a data destruction method is usually built into the device itself. Data on these devices is stored in internal memory or on user-installed memory devices. Remove memory cards you have installed and then perform a hard reset or factory reset on the device to clear the built-in memory. Each device uses different techniques for a hard reset. Search on the Internet for “hard reset” followed by the brand and model of your device to find instructions, or check your device’s manual.
For Your Personal Data, Complete Removal Is Essential
You can use any of the methods listed above to destroy data on your computers or other devices. Whether you donate, sell, recycle, or otherwise dispose of your device, don’t skip this process. Your identity, your bank account, your credit rating, and much more can be at risk. Either do the data destruction yourself or have a trusted technician do it for you. At California Computer Recycling, we know that safety starts with proper data destruction.