Saturday, July 11, 2009

Dispose of an old computer

Q) I wish to dispose of an old computer and I understand that the best way of protecting the personal information on the hard disk (my bank details and so on) is to remove the hard disk and break it up with a hammer, and then the other computer parts can be used by a third party. Can you advise how to go about this process? Thank you, Jim B.

A) The rather odd advice to smash your hard disk if you’re getting rid of a computer was recently propagated by a national magazine.

While it’s certainly one way of making sure the data on your disk can’t be accessed, it’s not the most practical. For one thing, it’s dangerous – there’s a risk of being hit in the eye by a small part flying off the disk’s casing – and second it is considerably more trouble than it’s worth.

Let’s go back to basics: the reason you need to make data unrecoverable is that, because of the way hard disks work, deleting something doesn’t really mean it’s gone. When you delete a file in Windows it remains on the disk but the computer ‘forgets’ about it. It’s still easily recoverable. Even formatting the hard disk, which wipes it clean, leaves traces of your old data which, again, is still recoverable with dedicated software.

There is software available, though, that will not only wipe your hard disk clean but will overwrite it with random patterns of data so that the old data (your confidential files) is truly hard to recover.

There’s some argument over how thorough the software needs to be, but one of the most popular free tools, Eraser, allows you to set a number of ‘passes’ – that is, the number of times it overwrites all the data on the disk. I would recommend three.

Either way, using an Eraser is certainly easier than taking a hammer to your disk.

Here is a nice one
that should do the job, but there are many more to choose from. By the way, I think that Good Will no longer accepts computers, but I still do.
Thanks for your question....... Jack