Discard the computer, secure data

July 27, 2011 

Where does your data go when you dispose of your old computer? If you do not remove information saved on the computer you are discarding, the answer is it could go anywhere.

While most hackers will not target random discarded hard drives, identity theft is a very real threat. We all need to take steps to protect ourselves. How? One option is to perform a “security wipe” on the hard drive which reassigns each bit on the drive three times in order to obscure the data completely. Simply formatting a hard drive is not an effective way to destroy data. Technology professionals are able to use software to recover data legitimately for clients when needed. Less scrupulous individuals could do the same with your old hard drive and steal important information about your identity.

A less costly route is simply to destroy the hard drive using a hammer or mallet. There also are services out there that will erase and shred drives, then recycle the metal for a small fee.

Whether you opt for destroying the drive yourself, or using a service to do so, the drive must be removed from the retiring system. If you are discarding an old computer, and there is no concern about the functioning of the system, there is an element of fun in removing the old hard drive for erasure or demolition.

Laptop hard drives often are very easy to access. On the bottom of the laptop there are usually access doors for the battery, memory and the hard drive. Memory access often will show a rectangular symbol with teeth, resembling a stick of random access memory. The battery symbol looks like a C or D battery. The hard drive access often will show a stack of disks, and may be on the bottom or on the side. Remove screws and slide it out to the side, or remove the access door on the bottom and the hard drive will tip out and disconnect from its connection.

Desktop components can be accessed by removing the side panel. Inside you will see a stack of box-shaped drives, some accessible from the front of the computer, such as the CD-RW and floppy drive. The hard drive is usually in this stack, but is not accessible from the front. The hard drive has a ribbon cable which connects it to the motherboard. Remove the screws holding the hard drive in its bay and slide it out. The ribbon cable will disconnect easily, sometimes by pressing inward on narrow ends of the connection. Certain manufacturers will require you to remove the front bezel of the PC and to slide the drive out through the front. Refer to your manufacturer’s website for instructions. You also can contact your trusted computer adviser for advice.

Once you have the hard drive in hand, pull out your favorite heavy hammer and protective goggles. A laptop hard drive with its ceramic disks will give a very satisfying crunch, and you will hear the shattered disks rattling inside. A desktop hard drive is metallic. Hammer away until the casing is dented inward, denting the disks and incapacitating the drive. There is equipment available to try to retrieve data from moderately damaged hard drives. If you are extremely determined that no part of your data should ever be painstakingly retrieved, take the hard drive apart and physically deface the disks. Remember to properly dispose of the computer and scrapped hard drive by contacting Manatee County Solid Waste. They can advise you on the methods available to properly dispose of your electronic scrap.

Remember that your data does not disappear when you retire your old systems or replace that old hard drive. Take the proper steps to ensure your data and identity stays yours alone. For questions and/or advice, contact your trusted technology professional.

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