Q: Where can I dispose of computers that have data on the hard drive that I do not want out in the general public? — Dorothea
A: When it comes to disposing of an old computer, your choices are to sell, donate or recycle it.
(Never throw an old computer in a Dumpster as it is hazardous waste in our landfills!)
Identity theft through electronic means has become such a focus of cyber-criminals that disposing of your old computer without taking steps to “scrub” the personal or business data first could be very risky.
Relying on others to remove this data before putting your computer back into circulation also is risky because once you give up control of the data, anything can happen.
Your best bet is to take control of the data disposal yourself so you know for sure that it got handled properly. Here are several options ranging from very simple to somewhat technical that will allow you to decide what you are most comfortable doing:
Option 1: Scrub the individual data files off the drive with a secure deletion program such as Eraser, a free utility available for download at www.tolvanen.com/eraser. This option is best for anyone who wants to make sure the programs still work when they give the computer to the next party. Don’t rely on the “delete” function in your computer’s operating system because it doesn’t actually remove the data; it simply marks the space occupied by the file as “free” for use by other data. If nothing ever overwrites this space (which is a completely random process), retrieving the “deleted” files is fairly simple for a cyber-criminal.
Eraser is much more secure then deleting through the operating system because it immediately overwrites the space previously occupied by your personal data with random characters.
If you want to add another layer of protection, run the “Disk Defragmenter” utility built into Windows after you use Eraser (in the “System Tools” section of the Accessories group of your program listing).
Option 2: Securely wipe out the entire hard drive with a program such as the free Kill Disk utility (www.killdisk.com ), which does a much more thorough job then simply reformatting the hard drive. Kill Disk conforms to Department of Defense clearing and sanitizing standards and makes it nearly impossible for anyone to get anything of value off of the drive.
This procedure is much more comprehensive but requires some technical experience (making a boot disk) in order to use it.
Option 3: Remove the hard drive from the system before disposing of it so you can deal with the sensitive data at a later date. If you are not comfortable running either of the utilities listed above, hang on to the drive until you can find someone you trust to do it for you.
When it comes to recycling old computers, programs vary from state to state so here are some resources that may help you find the best way to recycle or donate your old computer:
• Check with your local Data Doctors location (www.datadoctors.com) as many are drop-off locations for various charities and recycling programs around the country such as Students Recycling Used Technology, or StRUT.
• Visit the Computer Take Back Web site (www.computertakeback.com) to locate a responsible recycler in your area or the National Cristina Foundation’s Web site (www.cristina.org), which acts as a “match making service” for donors and recipients in the same area of the country.