Recycling computers and how to deal with information on your hard drive

Technological advances within the personal computer market has bought about an increase in the rate at which we upgrade our machines. Manufacturers are continually competing to develop faster, smaller and cheaper gadgets to catch our attention. Whilst this is a good thing for technology, spare a thought for the old equipment when you upgrade your machine. Consider the potential security risk of the personal data held within that equipment when you recycle and what you can do to stop any risk.

There are many methods of recycling your old computers once it becomes end of life. Whether you choose to reuse, sell or recycle the item so the raw materials can be recovered, the data should be treated as a separate issue. With hard drives and non volatile memory being common place in gadgets personal information will almost always be stored within a device. For example the laptop you use to surf the internet with may have saved address information, login details and in some cases bank account details. This must be treated prior to any method of disposing of your old equipment.

So what are the methods available to treat the data on your hard drives? You have three main choices and we will look at each one in detail; software wiping, magnetic wiping and physical destruction.

Software Wiping

Using software to wipe hard drives is more than simply formatting a drive. Even a low level format leaves the drive recoverable and the data can be retrieved. Only certified software should be used that permanently destroys the data and this is performed by multiple overwrites onto the hard drive. In most cases the software will cost money but this is more cost effective than the associated costs of losing your personal information. This is a simple method of destruction that any individual can perform and does allow the equipment to be reused. It does however leave the responsibility to the individual to ensure that the wiping function worked, but the software should report the success of the process.

If you wish the whole pc or laptop to be reused, this should be the method you choose.

Magnetic Wiping

Most hard drives area form of magnetic media, that relies on a magnetic field within the device to write, read and access the data on the device. If you remove the magnetic field you remove the data and the ability to read or write to the drive. This process is called degaussing and is performed by a either a strong natural magnetic degausser or an electromagnetic degausser. Companies exist that perform the destruction on your behalf as powerful degaussers are an expensive piece of machinery.

If you wanted to destroy the data on the drive with the hard drive being unusable afterwards this is a good method although expect to pay for the service.

Physical Destruction

You can physically destroy hard drives in many methods such as crushing, shredding and drilling. If you are a domestic pc user the easiest method of physical destruction is to simply drill the hard drive to disable the drive. Whilst the platter of the drive will still hold the data, unless retrieved forensically the data cannot be accessed.  Providing you have a drill, this method will be free of charge as you can do it yourself. If you require the drive to be crushed or shredded you would need to hire a data destruction company to perform the destruction, which will cost you.

If you no longer want to reuse the hard drive and you wish to break the drive this is the method you should choose.

However you choose to destroy your hard drive, make sure you do so before you recycle your old equipment. After all your data is valuable and if it falls into the wrong hands lasting damage can be caused to your identity, credit  rating and reputation.

 

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