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Check How to Securely Prepare Old Computer for Disposal
Whether you’re replacing your laptop, tablet, or desktop, or just trying to dispose of a broken one, properly recycling your technology is critical. This tutorial will show you how to properly recycle your computer and where to dispose of it.
How to safely prepare an old computer for disposal
Data security: deleting your files is not enough
Do you think deleting your old files and emptying the Recycle Bin is enough to remove them from your computer? Think again. When a file is deleted, it is not actually deleted from the hard drive. All that is done is that a certain flag is set on the hard drive to indicate that the file is no longer available. The file content is still present on the hard drive. If someone were to use a data recovery program, they may still be able to recover your file or parts of your file. The same goes for formatting a hard drive. Modern hard drive formatting utilities do not erase the hard drive, they simply restore certain information to the hard drive. The data is still there. By the way, even if you know for a fact that you never store vital information like credit card numbers in a document on your computer, you still have to go through the procedure here.
- Your credit card number may have been saved by a browser in a cached file at one time or another on your computer when you made an online transaction. Caching is done automatically behind your back by modern browsers to speed up your browsing experience. Even if you’ve cleared your cache, the number may still be lurking somewhere on your hard drive.
- It’s not just credit card numbers that you need to protect. Many things are intricately connected to your identity. Your social security number, your name, the email addresses in your email software, etc. If you’ve ever written an office report on your computer, your name is likely to be on that report somewhere, and bits of that data may still be on the hard drive, even if it’s not visible to you. Many of these pieces of information can be abused by other people who want to steal your identity or sell your data or some other horrible thing that you probably can’t imagine (but they can).
- It’s worse if you’re using Windows Vista, since Vista keeps copies of all the files you’ve saved unless you’ve disabled Volume Shadow Copy.
- Since it’s impossible to remember every single thing you’ve done on your computer over the years you’ve had it, always assume that some critical information exists and you need to securely erase it.
Programs Registry Keys Security
Data files are not the only files you need to delete. If you have purchased any software on the Internet, you have probably been given a license key or registration number to enter your software and activate it. These programs usually save a copy of that key somewhere on your hard drive so they can remember that you are a registered user. If you leave your registered programs and keys on your system, someone could retrieve them and distribute them on the Internet. When a key is widely available, the author of the software can blacklist it. As a result, when you try to install the software you paid for on your new computer, you may no longer be able to register it, even though you paid for it.
This goes beyond the software you install. It applies to the same operating system (such as Windows) as well. If you’re running a retail version of Windows, which you bought separately from a software store, you may want to use it on your new computer. Since you are only licensed to use Windows on one computer at a time, if you simply leave your old computer with your retail Windows installed, your existing Windows computer may one day no longer work. This can happen if Microsoft discovers that your key is circulating on the Internet and blacklists it so that it is no longer valid. I know the above sounds a bit paranoid, especially if you’re not very computer savvy. However, from the point of view of any experienced computer user, the recovery of electronic data and the use/abuse of said data is very easy. We are no longer in the 20th century here, where a criminal mastermind may be needed to perpetrate such crimes. Today, even children can do it.
How to prepare for removal and safely clean your computer
[****]Disclaimer:[****] the procedure described here is intended for a common home user whose data doesn’t really interest anyone other than petty criminals. If your hard drive has really valuable data, whether it’s business or government, consult your organization’s security policies for the proper disposal of your hard drives and your computer. Also, this guide doesn’t cover Solid State Drives (SSDs), which seem to be coming into vogue. I have no idea how to dispose of them safely.
Save your date
First, make sure you’ve actually backed up all your data on the computer. Note that this doesn’t just mean that you copy all the files to your “My Documents” folder or to your desktop or wherever you put those files. It also means that it saves all the license keys or registration keys of the programs that you have purchased and installed on your computer. Get a USB drive or flash drive and copy everything over before proceeding to the next step. Once you perform the following steps, your data will be irrevocably lost.
Download disk cleanup software
You need special software to perform the secure erase of your hard drive for you. Don’t worry, you don’t have to spend a tell me. It’s free. Go to the Free Secure File / Disk Erasing Utilities page on thefreecountry.com and click on the Darik’s Boot and Nuke (called “DBAN” for short) link in the main section of that page. Once you are on the DBAN site, download the file for “floppies and USB flash drive” if your old computer has a floppy drive. If not, get the file for “CD and DVD Media”.
Create the Dban disk
If you downloaded the floppy version, put a blank floppy disk in the floppy drive, run the program you downloaded, and follow the instructions. If you downloaded the CD/DVD version, things are a bit more complicated. You need to have a CD burner to make a bootable DBAN CD. If your old computer doesn’t have a CD/DVD burner, you’ll need to download and create the CD on your new computer (which I assume has a CD/DVD burner). To create the bootable CD, start your CD/DVD burning program and look for an option that allows you to burn a disc image.
If you use Roxio Creator, please start Disk Copier from “Applications”. Click the “Advanced” menu and click the button next to “DVD-Video Disc Image or Folder.” Select the DBAN ISO file that you downloaded.
If you don’t have the above software, you can also use one of the free programs listed on the Free CD and DVD Burners and Copy Software page. Since there are so many, I will only describe the procedure for one of them, ImgBurn. In ImgBurn, click the “Write image file to disk” button, then click the “Browse for a file” button (the button looks like a folder with a magnifying glass on it in version 22.214.171.124). Select the DBAN ISO file that you downloaded. After selecting the file, proceed to burn it to a blank CD. It doesn’t matter if you use a blank CD-R or CD-RW, although you should probably use a CD-RW so that you can reuse the CD when you’re done with it. DBAN is not the type of software that you will need to run every day.
Reboot with Dban
Once you have finished creating the DBAN CD or diskette, place it in the drive of your old computer and reboot your old computer. You will be greeted with a blue screen titled “Darik’s Boot and Nuke” and a list of options. Press the ENTER key to start DBAN in interactive mode. After a few seconds or so, you will see a new screen. In the main part of the screen, under the heading “Disks and partitions”, you will find a list with the name of the manufacturer of your hard drives followed by the partitions present on that hard drive. Press the space bar until each square bracket “”either contains”” either “[****]”. By doing this, you are selecting each of your computer’s hard drives for erasing. The default method of erasing is to overwrite existing data on your hard drive 3 times. There are other options to erase your drive multiple times with different types of data. These options are supposed to make your data less likely to be recoverable, but it will take longer. I leave you to discover how to activate those options yourself if you wish. (Hint: Type “M” to see the different erase methods.)
Hopefully, the default option of wiping the drive only a few times will be enough to defeat casual snoops looking through your hard drive for easy prey. But you should be aware that such software wipes of your hard drives are not foolproof. There are ways to recover data even after using a wipe, but they require expensive procedures (at the time of this writing) that the average thief probably won’t use. On the other hand, if your hard drive contains things like truly secret information, which rivals are willing to pay to retrieve, the only sure way to make sure the data is gone is to physically destroy the entire hard drive, platters and all. As mentioned above, the method I describe is intended for the average person’s home computer that only contains things of interest to petty criminals. To start the cleanup, press the F10 key at the top of your keyboard. Note: Once you do this, your data is doomed. Don’t press the key unless you’re really sure. If you decide not to press F10 after all, the only way to get out of Dban is to shut down your computer.
The whole erasing procedure will take a lot of time, so you don’t have to sit in front of your screen waiting for it to finish. Depending on the size and speed of your hard drives, the number of hard drives you have, the erase method you have selected, it can take many hours or even longer. It may be best to plug the computer into an unused outlet in the corner of a room and leave it overnight to work on its own. Once Dban is finished (it will prompt you), simply remove the floppy or CD and shut down the computer. You can’t restart the computer after that because, with the hard drive wiped, there is no longer an operating system like Windows to boot into.
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