How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

Before disposing of any device or media, you should take steps to make sure you have removed all personal and other sensitive data from it. Vulnerable data that might be stolen from a device could include your bank or investment account number and password, your credit card numbers, information in databases, spreadsheets, tax software, and data from research projects.

If you use your personally owned devices to access or work with sensitive U-M data, you are expected to

  • Secure them in compliance with Security of Personally Owned Devices That Access or Maintain Sensitive Institutional Data (SPG 601.33). For guidance, see Your Responsibilities for Protecting Sensitive Data When Using Your Own Devices.
  • Erase them and/or delete U-M data when transferring or disposing of them. See Erase Personal Devices Used for U-M Work below for details.

Erase Computers and Mobile Devices

Do It Yourself

See these how-to instructions for securely deleting data from university or personally owned computing devices and storage media.

Have Tech Repair Do It for You

ITS Tech Repair at the Tech Shop offers Secure Device Sanitization services for individuals and U-M departments, as well as assistance moving data to a new device if needed.

Securely Delete Files from Computers

Physical Destruction of Devices or Media for Secure Disposal

When devices or drives are inoperable, it may be necessary to destroy them to ensure secure disposal. Destruction may also be required by some laws or regulations governing certain types of data. See Destroy Devices and Media for instructions.

Erase Personal Devices Used for U-M Work

If you use a personal device to access or work with U-M systems and/or data—whether you received a U-M stipend for it or not—you must properly delete U-M files and data and securely erase the device at end-of-life or before transfer. This reduces the risk of unauthorized disclosure of sensitive institutional data or personal information.

Security of Personally Owned Devices That Access or Maintain Sensitive Institutional Data (SPG 601.33) has a provision that states:
Data Return/Deletion: Users shall return or delete sensitive institutional data maintained on personally owned devices upon request from the University or when their role or employment status changes such that they are no longer an authorized user of that data.

If you are a U-M employee in a department that permit accessing sensitive U-M data on personal devices, delete U-M data or erase devices as appropriate:

  • If keeping a device after transferring to a different U-M unit or leaving U-M entirely. With the support from your unit’s IT staff, remove or delete U-M data, documents, databases, and licensed software specific to your unit by selective deletion rather than resetting to factory default.
  • If disposing of a device.
    1. Transfer or back up personal files, data, photos, and so on to new location if not already saved to cloud storage.
    2. Follow the steps under Erase Computers and Mobile Devices above.

Michigan Medicine

Michigan Medicine faculty, staff, and students with personal devices enrolled in Mobile Device Management should immediately report lost or stolen devices via the Michigan Medicine Help Center (help.med.umich.edu) by submitting a ticket.

Members of the Michigan Medicine community who are preparing a personal device for resale, transfer, or recycling should un-enroll their devices from Mobile Device Management.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

Laptops are one of people’s closest tech companions. After using a laptop for years, it has likely accumulated at least a little sensitive or private information. Luckily, there is an easy way to prevent any data leaks or embarrassing scenarios. Here are the steps you need to follow to wipe a drive and ensure that a buyer will not get ahold of sensitive data.

Why should you wipe your drive?

Aside from some embarrassing photos or search histories, there are several reasons why it is important to wipe a laptop’s drive before selling it. For example, the internet browser often saves a slew of sensitive data that can easily be accessed unless the laptop is wiped. Even more dangerous is the possibility that the buyer will have access to all the account credentials and passwords saved.

In addition to protecting passwords, another reason to wipe a drive is to protect past activities. Cookies and other tracking data can sometimes be reverse-engineered by skilled hackers, allowing them to view all the ways the system was used. In some cases, location data is even accessible, allowing a hacker to view every place the laptop traveled.

  • The best Windows laptops you can buy right now : Here’s what’s new

In the case that a seller is getting rid of a former company laptop, wiping will also benefit the employer. Once again, not wiping the notebook leads to the possibility of information being exposed. If it was formerly owned by an employer, not wiping it properly could run the risk of exposing company secrets. If the seller is especially unlucky, the employer might even hold the seller liable for any information breaches.

What are the precautions to take before erasing your laptop’s drive?

Before wiping a drive, it is wise to take a few precautions. Before permanently deleting the laptop’s hard drive, the important files should be backed up so that they can be retrieved by the seller later. There are many free programs available online that can help clone the entire laptop drive onto an external drive. Without using such programs, each file will have to be copied manually, which can be extremely time consuming.

A second precaution to take is unlinking the laptop from any software subscriptions. Some software providers allow users to register their computers so that they can easily access their accounts without having to log in. The laptop may also continue to receive personal notifications from other connected devices if it is left linked.

Can you reverse a drive wipe?

The answer to this question depends on the situation. If the user recently reformatted or wiped a hard drive, some deleted files can be recovered by using third-party programs. This is because when deleting a file, it is not entirely removed from the hard drive. The computer merely erases the directories that let users access these files. With enough digging, the files can be retrieved.

However, it is a completely different story once the deleted files are overwritten. Overwriting is the process of saving new data over old deleted data. Once new files are saved onto the wiped drive, these new files will replace old ones. Hence, the old files will be impossible to recover.

If a user is planning to sell their laptop, the second scenario is the better choice. The files should be wiped completely to eliminate any chance the buyer has to recover them. This can also be done by using third-party apps that will both delete the files and overwrite them.

Step-by-step procedure to wipe a hard drive

There are plenty of ways to completely wipe a hard drive. In fact, even strong magnets will do the trick (though this is a highly discouraged method that may cause irreversible damage on the drive) The steps below will explain how to safely and permanently wipe a laptop hard drive.

Wiping your PC with windows’ own reset feature

1. To wipe hard drive data with Windows’ own reset feature, first, open Windows Settings by right-clicking the Start menu button and selecting Settings from the options shown.

2. Next, click System on the right navigation pane. Before proceeding, ensure that all precautions have been taken from the information above.

3. From the options shown, scroll down and look for Recovery. Click Recovery. Doing so will direct you to Windows recovery options.

4. Under recovery options, click on the Reset PC button. A window should appear that gives two options.

a) Keep my files – Choosing this option will only erase the programs you installed on your PC. It will also reset any personalization or settings made. Any files such as documents will be kept.

b) Remove everything – If you are planning to sell your laptop, then this is the option to select.

5. Click on Remove Everything. Wait for the window to load and to proceed to the next step.

6. On the Additional Settings page, click Change setting.

7. Change both “Clean Data?” and “Delete files from all drives?” to Yes. Then, click Confirm at the bottom of the Window. Forgetting this step may make your deleted files recoverable.

8. Once you have returned to the Additional settings page, click Next. Wait for the window to load again.

9. Confirm the details provided on the last stage, and click Reset. The process to fully reset the laptop may take a few hours. There you have it! Your laptop’s drive has been completely wiped.

It makes sense to reuse, recycle, give away or sell on fully functional phones and computers when you’ve upgraded to the next model. Unfortunately, unethical chancers can, have and will data-mine second-hand hardware. So, to help protect your privacy, here’s the WIRED guide to securely wiping your data.

Internal storage found in all phones and computers comes in two main flavours: magnetic hard disks write data to spinning platters and usually provide more capacity for your money; solid-state storage is faster and more physically robust as there are no moving parts. Solid-state is ubiquitous in smartphones and tablets and also widely used in desktop and laptop PCs. You’ll also find both inside portable external hard disks.

Deletion isn’t erasure

Regardless of what kind of disk your device has, it’s important to remember that deletion isn’t erasure. Even after you delete a file and empty your trash, all this does is mark the sector of drive it was on as available to be written.

If you delete everything from a hard disk on a phone or PC, write over every sector with junk data, and then delete that, the original deleted data becomes virtually unrecoverable. Multiple cycles of this constitute secure deletion compliant with British and US government guidelines.

How to securely wipe an Android phone

If you haven’t encrypted your Android device, a standard factory reset isn’t enough to ensure that your old files can’t be recovered, particularly if the phone is rooted. Rooting is a process that allows you to get root, or highest level, access to the Android operating system code and is similar to jailbreaking Apple devices. While that might come as a relief if you’ve accidentally wiped your phone without backing up your treasured meme collection, it’s not particularly helpful from a security perspective.

To start with, if you’ve not already done so, encrypt your phone. Most recent Android versions will have done this by default. Go to Security & Location, Advanced, Encryption & credentials to check. If encryption is enabled, then a factory reset will indeed render your data irretrievable.

However, older Android devices, from 2015 and earlier, were susceptible to data-retrieval techniques even after a factory reset had been carried out. If you’ve got one of these, enable encryption, factory reset the phone, and then, for good measure, fill up its storage to ensure – as best you can – that every cell of its solid-state hard disk has been written before wiping it again. This isn’t great for the disk, but security is our priority here.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

Make sure to clean your storage drives, laptops, smart phones, tablets and anything that may contain confidential files before disposing of them. Whether I throw it away, sell it or give it away, you must first securely delete your data.

This is necessary because it is feasible to recover deleted files from many types of drives.. Data is not always immediately removed from an underlying drive if you delete it on a frequent basis.

USB drives, external hard drives and SD cards

An erasure procedure is required for USB drives and external hard drives. Yes, even if your USB drive contains solid state flash memory, and even though your external hard drive may contain a suitable solid state drive, You must keep this in mind.

TRIM is not supported via the USB interface, which means someone could recover confidential files from an old USB drive after getting rid of it.

To clean an external drive in Windows, no need for a special drive cleaning tool. You can format the drive from Windows, but you need to format “full” but you need to format “Quick format”.

This works on Windows 10, Windows 11 and any other modern version of Windows. From Windows Vista, the full format option was changed to always write zeros to the entire disk to ensure data is completely erased.

Please note that solid state storage only has a limited number of writes. This will reduce the life of your unit., especially for cheap flash drives. You don’t want to do this all the time. But, if you are about to dispose of the unit, it’s okay.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

On a mac, open the app “Disk utility”, but you need to format “Remove” in the toolbar. (but you need to format “Remove”.

By default, your Mac will notice that it will safely erase the drive. To change this, Click the button “Security options”, drag the slider at least one notch to the right until the tool says it will write a pass of random data, and then click “To accept”. but you need to format “Remove” to continue.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

Laptops, desktop and internal hard drives

On a laptop or desktop, your internal hard drives should only be cleaned if they are mechanical hard drives or hybrid hard drives. When you delete a file on a solid state drive, the file is automatically deleted from the drive due to TRIM, which helps to maintain the speed of your SSD.

The following tricks are only necessary if you are using a mechanical or hybrid hard drive. Don’t do this with solid state drives; it is a waste of time and will cause unnecessary wear and tear on the SSD.

In Windows 10 u 11, but you need to format “Restore” but you need to format “but you need to format” but you need to format. This erases the drive, will ensure that none of your files can be recovered later.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

RELATED: How to recover a deleted file: the definitive guide

If you are using Windows 7, Linux or other operating system, you can start your computer from a tool like DBAN. This tool will boot up and erase your computer’s hard drives, overwriting them with random data. You will have to reinstall Windows or Linux afterwards before someone can use the computer again, decidedly.

Just one wipe should be enough.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

On a Mac with a mechanical hard drive, you can start recovery mode and use the Disk Utility application to remove the hard drive before reinstalling macOS.

Despite this, I probably don’t have to do this. Your Mac uses File Vault encryption by default, so reinstalling macOS will ensure the encryption key is removed and file fragments cannot be recovered. Despite this, if you disabled File Vault encryption, cleaning your unit this way is a good idea.

Smartphones and Tablets

Apple iPhones and iPads use encryption, but you need to format “Delete all content and settings” but you need to format. After doing it, your personal data will be inaccessible. All data fragments are stored on the device in an encrypted form and cannot be accessed by anyone.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

Modern Android phones also use encryption by default. You can restore your Android device to factory settings to delete your data.

Because the data stored on the device was encrypted before performing the factory reset, data stored on the device will be encrypted and incomprehensible.

Encryption ahead of time also works

Additionally you can enable full disk encryption in advance. When you use encryption, your data cannot be recovered without your encryption passphrase. Leftover data bits and other files will be on the drive in a scrambled and scrambled state. People using forensic data analysis software will not be able to choose any piece of data.

As an example, Chromebooks always use encryption, so simply performing a factory reset will ensure your data is not accessible.

If you have a CD or DVD that you want to erase confidential files from, you can erase it if it is rewritable. Opposite case, be sure to physically destroy CDs or DVDs before disposing of them. This could mean taking a pair of scissors and cutting them into one or more parts.

Data was found on 68% of secondhand flash drives sold in the US, according to a Comparitech report. Here’s how to secure your data for disposal.

USB drive users need to exercise caution when throwing away or recycling those devices, according to a Wednesday study from Comparitech. Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire purchased 200 used USB flash drives–half from the US, half from the UK–to determine how securely data on the drive was stored before being disposed of. Some 68% of drives sourced from the US and 67% sourced in the UK still contained data from previous users, the report found.

The identity of the previous owner of the drives could be determined for 20% of drives from the US and 22% of drives from the UK. In total, 20 drives appear to have had no effort made to delete data, 19 of which were from the UK. Six of the drives from the US could not be accessed.

SEE: Media disposal policy (Tech Pro Research)

Best practices for USB drives

Losing a USB drive is very easy. Whether it falls out of a pocket, is absentmindedly left plugged into a computer, or is swiped by someone with sticky fingers, the risk to your data is quite high. Because of this, encrypting your drive is the best defense to preventing data theft–and protecting drives which are intended for resale, as encrypted data necessarily cannot be read by the new owner.

How to wipe a USB drive

For Linux and Mac OS X, you can overwrite the entire device with random data using this command from the terminal:

dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/sdX bs=1M

You’ll want to replace /dev/sdX with the actual ID of the drive. Be careful to specify the correct drive, to avoid inadvertently overwriting the wrong drive. More than one pass is not necessary, as this is not magnetic media, like a traditional platter hard drive.

After this task completes, use the storage manager for your operating system to format the drive to create a new file system, making the drive usable again. Formatting a drive does not, by itself, erase data from a drive.

On Windows 10, go to “This PC,” and right-click on the drive you want to securely erase. Click “Format…” and uncheck the “Quick Format” box, and click Start.

Wait, who actually sells used USB drives?

Considering that USB flash drives are often given away as (underwhelming) event swag at technology conferences, they have become sufficiently commoditized to the point that attempting to sell them is not worth the effort. Fundamentally, that is not the point–any discarded USB drive should have the data on it securely removed. To borrow a talking point from environmental groups, “there is no ‘away’ to throw something to.”

This tutorial is written for users who want to completely wipe the hard drive on their PC (Desktop or laptop) before selling, donating or rejecting the computer or the drive. By wiping a drive (hard disk, USB, Memory card, etc.), you ensure that all it’s stored data will be erased permanently and no one can retrieve the data from it, in any way.

As you may already know, any piece of information that stored on a drive, is stored in the form of 0 and 1. That means that any single file (text, document, photo, program, etc.) is nothing else than a row of 0’s and 1’s. Now, when you delete a file on a drive, the system doesn’t really erases the file (all the zeros and ones that concerning the file), but instead it removes only the reference to that file, which means that everyone can retrieve the deleted file by using a file recovery program, unless the data is overwritten.

What about when formatting the drive or deleting the partition? In general the result is the same: the data remains on the disk, because when you format a hard drive or when you delete a partition the system erases only the indexing information of all the stored data and doesn’t totally destroy them by overwriting the whole drive contents with zeros or with other random data. So if the drive or the partition isn’t overwritten, the data can be recovered by using a hard drive data recovery program.

How to Permanently Erase a Computer Hard Drive, USB or Memory stick.

The most secure method, to completely wipe a hard disk, is to use a data destruction software (also known as “drive wipe” or “disk sanitization” software), because this kind of software fully erases the hard drive by overwriting all the stored information multiple times in order to make impossible the data retrieval.

In this tutorial we present three (3) reliable data destruction programs in order to totally erase your computer or a certain drive (Hard disk, USB stick, Memory card, etc.) for FREE. The first two programs (CCleaner & Eraser) can be used to wipe a drive from within the Windows environment and the third program (DBAN) can be used to erase all the computer contents by starting your PC from the DBAN boot media. *

* Notes:
1. If you do not want to use the drive in the future then you can permanently destroy its contents by just destroying the disk. To do that, take a screwdriver and disassemble the drive. Then scratch the surface of the internal circular disc (platter) with the screwdriver or -better- break it with a hammer so it can not be read even if it is loaded onto another hard drive.
2. If you want to securely erase an HDD or SSD drive from command prompt, then read this tutorial: How to Format a Hard Drive from Command Prompt or DISKPART.

1. CCleaner.

As you may know, CCleaner is the most popular freeware tool to clean and optimize your Windows PC. One of the many features of CCleaner is the “Drive Wiper” tool, which (as you can understand by its name) can be used to securely erase a connected drive on your computer.

To wipe a drive with CCleaner:

* ATTENTION: Before erasing a drive, backup all its contents to another storage device. *

1. Download and install CCleaner on your computer.
2. Launch CCleaner, click Tools on the left and then click Drive Wiper.

3. At the Wipe options:

a. Select Entire Drive (all data will be erased)
b. Carefully select the drive that you want to erase.
c. Select how many times the stored data will be overwritten. (The more passes lower the chances of recovery, but the wipe takes more time).
d. Click the Wipe button.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

2. Eraser.

Eraser is an advanced security tool for Windows which allows you to completely remove sensitive data from your hard drive by overwriting it several times with carefully selected patterns (destruction methods). Additionally, the Eraser software has the ability to secure delete a specific file or folder on your PC and makes impossible the recovery.

To wipe a hard drive with Eraser.

* ATTENTION: Before erasing a drive, backup all its contents to another storage device. *

1. Download and install Eraser on your computer.
2. Launch Eraser and click Erase Schedule -> New Task.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

3. Then click Add Data

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

4. At ‘Select Data to Erase’ options:

a. At Target type, select Drive/Partition.
b. Change the Erasure method to Gutmann or to US DoD 5220.22-M
c. Carefully select the drive that you want to erase
d. Click OK.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

3. Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN)

DBAN, is an excellent wiping tool that can be used to securely wipe your system drive, especially in cases where you want to sell, donate or throw your PC.

To completely erase your PC with Darik’s Boot and Nuke hard disk eraser tool:

* ATTENTION: Before erasing your computer, backup all its contents to another storage device. *

1. Download DBAN.
2. Burn the DBAN.ISO file to a CD or to a USB media.
3. On the computer that you want to erase, boot from the DBAN media.
4. Press Enter at the first screen, to start DBAN in interactive mode.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

5. At the next screen:

a. If you have more that one drive, use the J and K keys to navigate to the drive that you want to erase.
b. Press the Space key to select the drive that you want to erase.
c. Press the M key to change the erasure method to Gutman Wipe, or to US DoD 5220.22-M.
d. Press F10 to start wiping the drive.

That’s it! Let me know if this guide has helped you by leaving your comment about your experience. Please like and share this guide to help others.

To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories.

There comes a period of time in every beloved gadget's life—some more prolonged than others—when you need to think about replacing the electronic device that's given you so much loyal service, whether it's a smartphone, a laptop, a digital camera, or anything in between.

Aside from the fun of choosing a replacement piece of hardware, you've got two main considerations to think about when it comes to disposing of your outdated gadgets carefully: security, and the impact on the environment. You don't want your personal and private data accessible after the gadget has left your possession. And you want to get rid of the device in a way that's as kind to the planet as possible.

Here we'll show you how to take care of both considerations, no matter what the gadget you need to dispose of.

Whether you're sending your device to be recycled or sticking it on Ebay, you don't want your finance spreadsheets, family photos, or Twitter login to stick around on the hardware, even if you don't think anyone would go to the trouble of trying to extract the data from your old gadgets.

When it comes to gadgets with on-board storage, we're primarily talking phones, tablets, and computers. The easiest way to wipe these devices—and all the data and applications on them is to do a full reset of the operating system. But first, make sure to back up all your precious documents, pictures, and so on to a hard drive or the cloud.

For Android devices, open up the Settings app then tap System > Advanced > Reset options, and then Erase all data (factory reset). Over on iOS, the equivalent option is in the Settings app under General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings.

If you're using a Windows computer, you need to load up the Settings app then click Update & Security, then Recovery, then Get started under the Reset this PC option. Choose to remove all personal files during the process. If you're using a Chromebook or Chrome OS tablet, open up the Settings pane and pick Advanced, then Powerwash to get your computer into an as-new state.

It's slightly more involved on a Mac: You need to restart macOS, then as soon as it begins to boot up again, hold Option+Command+R until you see a spinning globe. Release the keys, then choose Reinstall macOS, then choose Continue. Follow the on-screen instructions and select your main hard drive when prompted.

For most devices using flash or SSD storage, that should be enough to stop all but the most determined data recovery experts. If your computer uses an older, mechanical hard drive (i.e. not an SSD), certain bits of data may still be recoverable by tech-savvy users with the right tools.

It's up to you whether to take the risk and leave it at that. The average Ebay buyer or computer recycling facility employee likely isn't going to go to the trouble of putting together a complicated hard disk recovery setup, just on the off chance that they might stumble across some of your home movies or budget spreadsheets.

But if you want to be absolutely sure nothing can be recovered from a drive, US-CERT recommends actually physically destroying it—a hammer or drill will do the job well enough, but wear some safety goggles. You can also find specialist facilities that will take care of the destruction for you, but again, this is only really necessarily if have extremely sensitive data on your machine, or a reason to suspect that someone has specifically targeted your old electronics.

Perhaps just as importantly, you need to disconnect the devices you're about to discard from your various your online accounts. If you've followed the steps above, it's going to be very, very hard for anyone to log into your Facebook, for instance. But to be absolutely sure, you can log in on a different device and log out of other sessions remotely.

You have several options for storing electronic data: hard drives, cell phones, CDs, DVDs, flash drives, digital media players, and external hard drives. Chances are, you use several of these devices because they serve different purposes. But all of these devices store data that can be read or accessed without your knowledge or consent—perhaps even after you think the data is gone. Even if you delete sensitive information, it may still be recoverable unless you completely erase and/or destroy the device.

When you delete a file, what you’re actually doing is erasing the path to that file—in short, you’re telling the device to forget where that file is. The file itself is still stored in memory, although it’s treated as empty space and could be overwritten by new data. The only way to completely and permanently delete data from a device is to use a “secure erase” feature, which overwrites the file with random new data. If you’re disposing of the device, you should also consider destroying it to make certain that its data cannot be recovered. This may be necessary if that device was used to store highly sensitive information.

Many computers now come with secure erase features or can download an application to securely erase data for you. Most smartphones, tablets, and other portable “smart” devices have an option to wipe all data or restore to factory default.

Requirements

Securely erasing University information

    digital sensitive University information when it is no longer necessary to fulfill your job responsibilities or a University activities process.
  • Shred documents containing sensitive University information.

Disposing of IT devices

IT provides a central service for disposing of IT devices. Follow these guidelines only for University-owned devices and only if your unit does not have its own procedure to erase and/or destroy media. Contact your unit IT professional for more information.

    any files that you need to retain.
  1. Complete an Equipment Activity Web form for the device and request central disposal through IT.

If you or your unit are disposing of the device locally rather than through IT, use the following process instead.

    any files that you need to retain.
  1. Securely erase all information from the device.
  2. If the device is not intended for reuse, destroy either the entire device or its storage media.

General guidelines

Securely erasing data

  • Use a native feature (such as Apple OS X’s “secure erase”) or an application (such as Eraser) to securely erase sensitive information from your personal devices when it’s no longer necessary.
  • If a physical document containing sensitive personal information is no longer needed, shred it.

Disposing of personal devices

Remember that any storage device, including your cellphone, tablet, or portable media player, can potentially contain sensitive University information such as passwords, account data, dates of birth, and even Social Security numbers. Whenever you need to dispose of a device containing storage media of any kind, always erase its data as completely as possible to prevent it from being available to anyone afterward.

    any files that you need to retain.
  • Securely erase the device, especially if you plan to sell or donate it.
  • Consider physically destroying the device for extra security.

External resources

Securely erasing media (UD IT help file)
Provides recommendations for erasing files and erasing or destroying disks.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

Do you have a pile of laptops or desktop computers gathering dust in your home that you want to throw out, but are worried about somebody accessing your confidential information?

Many of our clients have been asking us if there is an easy way to securely erase their old information, so they can dispose of their old computers safely. This is for more than just malware removal, this could be because your hard drive has failed, or a computer repair isn’t feasible, or you’ve just upgraded. No matter what the reason, getting rid of your private information safely is vital.

If you truly want to erase a hard drive completely, it is not as simple as deleting all your files into the recycle bin. To truly erase your hard drive you have to take some extra steps. This guide will show you the 3 best ways to erase your hard drives.

1. Erase Your Hard Drive with Software

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

The cheapest way to securely wipe your old hard drives is to use special software. My choice for wiping drives is Darik’s Boot and Nuke (also known as DBAN). It’s free and provides military grade levels of wiping.

To use DBAN you need to download it here: http://www.dban.org and burn it to a blank DVD.

The next step is to get the computer to boot from the DBAN DVD and select your wiping method. You can select a basic wipe or a full military grade wipe, which can take anywhere from 2-8 hours depending on the size of the hard drive. After the process is started, you will see a status bar that indicates how much time is remaining. You could even leave the computer overnight to wipe, as the entire process is automatic.

2. Erase Your Hard Drive with Hardware

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

If the software approach isn’t right for you, there is a special tool called Wiebetech’s Drive eRazor Ultra that will do the job.

This is a much faster option, than using software for hard drive wiping, and great if you have numerous hard drives that require wiping.

What you will need to do is remove any old hard drives from inside your computer and plug them straight into the Drive eRazor. Then all you have to do is push a few buttons and the whole wiping process will be automatic. Status lights on the unit will show when it’s finished.

If you would like to purchase the Drive eRazor please give us a call, as we get them directly through the Australia distributor in Port Melbourne. You can read more about the unit here: Wiebetech’s Drive eRazor Ultra.

3. Erase Your Hard Drive with Physical Destruction

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

Sometimes an old hard drive has physical errors which prevent the above two methods from completing successfully. If this is the case, a more hands-on method is appropriate.

This is where you use a hammer, a thick nail and a block of wood (and some eye protection for safety). Your goal is to use four nails, and punch them right through the hard drive. This will damage the hard drives internals and make the ability to recovery data impossible.

Need Help?

If you would like to securely erase all your confidential information please give us a ring on 1300 553 166 or fill out the form on the right, we’d be more than happy to help. Also when you call please mention this article so we can give you a FREE DVD copy of DBAN hard drive wiping software when we book you in.

To ensure the security of your new system, have a look at our tips on computer setup, and if you’re wanting to avoid the destruction of onboard hard drives, check out how to set up nas storage.

At Fields Data Recovery, we regularly purchase second-hand hard drives for spare parts. Over the last few years, we’ve noticed that more and more of these devices still contain data created by their previous owners. Granted, the users have nearly always deleted their data and the problem is therefore caused by naivety rather than neglect, but this doesn’t change the fact that the personal information present on the drives is still easily accessible and ripe for exploitation.

Many people assume that data is permanently deleted following them having emptied their recycle bins, but this is simply not the case. When this is done, the devices firmware is simply informed that the data is no longer required and that the location within which it is stored can be overwritten with new data if necessary. As a result, should someone simply delete the data contained on their hard drive and then sell their device, a person who was inclined to do so could retrieve the information the drive contained with relative ease.

Yes, the risk is relatively low but, with more and more cybercriminals now aware of the fact that second-hand computers and storage media are a potential goldmine of data, many are now actively purchasing such devices in order to exploit the information they find for personal gain. Individual users are therefore putting themselves at risk of identity theft whilst businesses – and you’d be surprised just how many fail to securely erase data before disposing of their drives – could be liable for some huge fines, particularly with GDPR having recently come into effect.

With this in mind, here are, in our opinion, the three best ways to ensure the data on your hard drive is erased:

Securely erasing files

We know it might look like we’re contradicting ourselves here, but whilst standard deletion techniques are insufficient, just as specialist software can retrieve data from a failed drive, it can also be used to erase it.

To cut a long story short, this software works by not just deleting references to the locations of data within the devices firmware but by also continuously overwriting it with random data thus ensuring that nothing a nefarious individual would find useful remains.

Sadly, this is the only technique on this list that, if utilised, will allow you to sell the drive on at a later date but there is an increased risk that a skilled cybercriminal could recover remnants of data if the erasure isn’t completed by someone who is completely au fait with the software in question.

Physical destruction

Whilst not entirely guaranteed to render the data held on a drive completely unreadable, it makes the task of retrieving it so difficult that very few cybercriminals – the vast majority of whom rely on low-hanging fruit – would even consider attempting it.

Yes, simply opening your hard drive and taking a hammer to its platters is an extremely secure and cost-effective means of erasing your hard drive but (and forgive us for stating the obvious) you certainly won’t be able to sell it on afterwards.

Magnetic degaussing

For businesses that don’t want to fall foul of GDPR and be issued with a gargantuan fine, as well as the security-conscious individual, magnetic degaussing is undoubtedly the very best way of erasing your data.

Put simply, a degausser completely demagnetises a hard drive’s platters and removes all of the data stored on it in the process. Following this, there is no way it can be recovered.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

Before you drop off your computer hard drive or external storage unit such as a USB drive to TechCollect, it is your responsibility to protect your personal information by securely and permanently wiping the data on your device first.

The recycling process does not include the deletion of data and TechCollect cannot provide any guarantee on the safety of any data not wiped from any devices dropped off for recycling. Further information on how to wipe data from your PC or laptop can be found below.

Once dropped off your products and any data on them cannot be retrieved as they are dismantled and broken down for recycling.
How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

Deleting files from your computer’s disk drive or reformatting it does not “physically” overwrite your data. Specialised software exists which can recover data from seemingly blank drives.

Software designed to securely wipe all data from your computer is available. Information on which software to use and how to use it is listed below. Please note that some knowledge of computer systems is required.

  • Step 1: check the make and model of the disk drive(s) in your PC or laptop. This should be available on the manufacturer’s website. Alternatively, you can find the information in “Device Manager” (Windows) or “System Information” (known as “System Profiler” in earlier versions) in iOS.
  • Step 2: type the drive model into a search engine to find out whether your drive is a hard disk drive (HDD) or solid state drive (SSD). These technologies require different wiping procedures.
  • Step 3: use the following instructions based on your drive type.

Hard disk drives (HDD)

To wipe a HDD, there are various programs available which will physically overwrite your entire disk. The following software is available:

    (free) – all platforms (requires burning to CD or a USB stick) (free) – Windows only (paid) – Windows only (paid) – (requires burning to CD or a USB stick)

“These software packages provide several different programs for wiping your drive, including the widely used DoD 5220.22-M program which overwrites a drive seven times. For those of us who don’t require such a high level of security, a ‘lite’ version of this program is available, overwriting the disk three times. Both methods provide an adequate level of security, with the only difference being the length time it will take to overwrite a disk seven times as compared to three. Once the program has finished, you can safely dispose of your device.

Solid state drives (SSD)

SSDs are a newer technology and require a different method to erase data completely. It is recommended to use the Secure Erase function in the SSD manufacturers’ disk management software (this will often be different to the laptop’s manufacturer). The SSD manufacturer can be found using Steps 1–3 above. Once you know the SSD manufacturer, follow the links provided below to download the appropriate software to remove data:

    (SSD Toolbox) (SSD Toolbox) (Storage Executive) (Solid State Drive Toolbox) (SSD Manager) (Storage Executive) (Toshiba SSD Utility) (Magician SSD Management) (SSD Dashboard) (SeaTools) (SSD Utility) (SSD Dashboard)

As an alternative, if you have trouble identifying the appropriate programs form the above list, you can use third-party programs that are equally capable of erasing SSDs. These include:

If you have old computers or laptops that you no longer need and are considering donating, recycling or selling them to free up office space, you must deal with the private information contained on the hard drives. From photos and financial data to confidential documents, browser history and passwords, your information is vulnerable if you don’t completely wipe the drive or destroy the disk.

The Risks of Unprotected Data

Cybercriminals are extremely savvy and they’ll go to great lengths to steal personal data, whether it’s social security numbers, credit card information or identification. Not only is there a risk that this information could be sold for criminal purposes, but it could also be used to commit other illegal offences, like fraud, identity theft or extortion.

Hard Drive Shredding is the Best Way to Protect Your Information

When disposing of a computer or hard drive, deleting files or completing a factory reset isn’t enough to safeguard your confidential files since data recovery software can reconstruct information. The easiest and most effective way to protect your privacy is through the process of hard drive shredding.

This form of secure information destruction physically destroys the disk by using a heavy-duty shredding machine that is specifically designed to demolish hard drives, backup tapes and mobile data devices. It works by completely grinding up and destroying every single part of the device into small pieces, so your confidential data can never be recovered, reconstructed or stolen.

What Does It Mean to Wipe a Hard Drive?

Wiping a computer hard drive is different from shredding because it merely erases any stored information while keeping the physical hard drive intact. This is also different from moving documents to the trash or recycle bin because, even though the files are hidden from view, they remain on the device.

In many cases, deleted files can be recovered quite easily since most computer operating systems only erase the links to the data. Regaining access to the erased data is as simple as restoring the deleted links, which can be done with data recovery software.

How to Wipe Your Hard DriveHow to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

To successfully wipe a computer hard drive clean, you’ll need to use special data wiping software that permanently erases the contents so your personal files cannot be retrieved. This process can take several hours depending on the size of the drive, how much information is stored on the disk and the type of operating system, such as Windows or Mac OS.

Before wiping your computer’s hard drive, it’s important to back up any files that you want to keep onto an external hard drive, another computer or with a secure cloud storage service. Once the hard drive is wiped, you may not be able to recover this information.

Which Programs Erase Hard Drives?

There are many paid and free programs that you can download to wipe the hard drive on your Windows PC or Mac computer. Most use special formatting that overwrites the deleted files with zeros and other incomprehensible data. This makes it near impossible for data recovery software to restore the erased information.

Regardless of the data wiping software that you use, it’s essential to follow the step-by-step process to ensure you select the specific files or the partition you want to delete. If not done correctly, there is a risk that information can be left behind on the disk, like passwords, search history or personal files.

Don’t Leave Your Confidential Data to Chance

When it comes to hard drive security, physical destruction is the only way to be 100% sure that your confidential information won’t fall into the wrong hands. Erasing, reformatting, wiping or degaussing old hard drives simply isn’t enough to protect your data. When hard drives remain physically intact, there is a risk that your personal information can be recovered by cyber attackers.

Choose Blue-Pencil for Secure Hard Drive Destruction

You can feel confident knowing that your electronic devices are securely shredded and properly disposed of with Blue-Pencil’s on-site, high-speed hard drive shredding services. Our state-of-the-art, professional-grade equipment uses cross-cut shredders, which instantly destroy a hard drive to 5/8-inch pieces to make data recovery 100% impossible. This method also follows NAID AAA certification regulations.

After your on-site service, your organization will receive an official Certificate of Destruction with scanned serial numbers for each hard drive device that was destroyed. All shredded material will then be sent to a secure facility for separation and environmentally responsible disposal. You’ll never have to worry about your computer hard drives or confidential data ending up in the landfill or in the possession of information thieves.

To learn more about Blue-Pencil’s digital media and hard drive destruction services, contact our customer service team for a free quote.

'For a lot of users, they just didn't know a better way,' says researcher Jason Ceci

People selling an old smartphone, tablet or laptop may be unaware the device may still contain easily-accessed personal data before recycling or selling the device.

Researchers at the University of Guelph contacted 131 people who had advertised their device online for sale. Although a majority had used a factory reset to clear their personal information from the device, over one-third had not cleared their devices properly. And many had not deleted the data at all.

Some had deleted their information using insecure methods, such as manually deleting data themselves, researcher and masters student in computer security Jason Ceci says.

The problem with trying to manually delete everything is that it's stored in many places, associated with a variety of apps and it's easy to forget to dig it all out.

"They often forget about some stuff like their browsing history or their website logins or location tracking data," Ceci said.

"The other problem with manually deleting data is it's recoverable if you just manually delete it rather than using a proper factory reset or security or a function."

Data security symposium

The study was presented this week at the Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security, which took place virtually. The study included both the online survey as well as interviews with survey participants.

"Although several previous studies have estimated the scope of the problem, this study is the first to investigate this from the users' perspective to understand their decision-making processes," co-researcher Hassan Khan, an assistant professor in Guelph's school of computer science said in a release.

The study did list some limitations, including that it relied on participants to report their own behaviours and that the age range skewed to people 30 and younger because advertising for the survey was done online due to the pandemic, which may not have reached older adults.

And the sample group itself was not large.

Some 'didn't know a better way'

Ceci said in many cases, people just didn't realize they were leaving sensitive data on the device.

"For a lot of users, they just didn't know a better way. Or, it was the easiest way just to do it wrong and give it away," he said.

"Some of the devices that people have, don't make it very easy to securely remove data," Ceci said, noting some older laptop computers required a multi-step process to delete all information.

"It was difficult for the average user," he said.

"It's getting a little better. Windows 10 has a 'reset my PC function' where it asks you if you're going to be donating or selling the device. And then if you click yes, it says it'll take longer, but it'll securely erase everything," Ceci said. "And then you can be more confident in selling or donating the device, which is ultimately better for everyone."

Holding on to devices

There were also many people who said they simply held onto an old device instead of tossing it or recycling it if they were concerned about privacy

"Sometimes devices are not functioning and then you don't have the charger anymore. That's where it becomes a grey area, where it's not really known what's the best course of action with that kind of device," Ceci said.

Some of the respondents found old phones or devices during spring cleaning and just donated them, not knowing what was on them, Ceci said.

"There are some potential for privacy leaks there, but without an easy way to wipe a device that's dead, there isn't currently much you can do without destroying the device."

Manufacturers, retailers could help more

Khan says there are growing reports of people finding unusual photos or information on devices they got secondhand.

He said manufacturers and retailers can play a role in ensuring people can safely delete their information from a device.

"Artificial intelligence techniques could be used to detect when users are disposing of their device, such as when users are manually deleting data across the device, and then guide them to perform a secure procedure," Khan said.

"Retailers who accept used devices for resale or recycling should be transparent about how they will sanitize the devices."

Whether you’re trading in your old iPhone for a discount on a new one, selling it, giving it away, or recycling it, you’re going to want to erase all of your data first. Not only do you want to keep personal information from falling into the wrong hands, but let’s face it: nobody’s going to want a phone with your old selfies on it.

After you’ve transferred all of your data to a new phone (or, if you’re not getting a new phone, backed your data up), here’s how to wipe your iPhone:

Get rid of a few identifiable features

  • Disable “Find My iPhone” by going to “Settings” > “Find My” > “Find My Phone” and toggling “Find My Phone” and “Find My Network” to off.
  • Unpair any devices from your phone, including your Apple Watch.
  • Toggle iMessages off (just in case).

Sign out of your Apple ID

  • Select “Settings” > [your name] top button > “Sign Out” (at the bottom of the page).
  • Enter your Apple ID password.
  • You’ll be asked if you want to keep a copy of your data on this iPhone. Assuming you’ve backed everything up and are about to wipe your phone, you don’t need to toggle anything on.
  • Tap on “Sign Out” in the upper-right corner and then again on the “Are you sure?” pop-up window.

Get ready to erase it

  • Remove the SIM card from the phone.
  • Go into “Settings” > “General” > “Transfer or Reset iPhone” and select “Erase All Content and Settings.”

If you’re wiping your phone, you don’t want to keep any data on it.

You’ll get one last chance to change your mind.

Update September 15th, 2021, 3PM ET: This article was originally published on April 13th, 2020, and has been updated to add more info and account for changes in the OS.

Be diligent about deleting the many layers of information you carry on your phone

Your new smartphone was made for you: It’s shiny, fast, functional and so much more fun than your old one, which was 11 months old and starting to show signs of gigabyte arthritis. Still, it still has plenty of life left and you’re willing to donate it out of the goodness of your heart (and the tax benefit). Or maybe you're trying to make a few bucks by selling it. Either way, you don’t want anyone to access your mobile banking transactions or text gaffes, hence your journey to learn how to wipe your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Don’t count on swiping a toggle in your settings to wipe your iPhone, Android device or iPad. Be wise with data deletions and don’t rely on a return to factory settings as a panacea for your protection.

Why you should be paranoid about wiping your phone

Identity theft expert Robert Siciliano did a little experiment with 30 devices he bought from Craigslist. He wanted to see just how savvy people were at wiping their devices before getting rid of them. He was bewildered by what he discovered. Some people fell way short of doing even cursory cleaning. Even the mobile devices that had been “wiped” were easily hacked. Siciliano found “bank account information, Social Security numbers, child support documents, credit card account logins and a host of other personal data.” Just because that was 2011 doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen to you today.

It’s harder than you think to securely delete cell phone data

If you want to wipe your device, all you have to do is take out the SIM and the microSD cards, right? Only if you want to change your middle name to “Rube.” Taking out the SIM card simply disrupts communication with the network. Smartphones are portable PCs. The internal memory holds way more data than your old flip phone did.

How to wipe your device

There are many things you can do to help minimize risk before you sell or donate your mobile device. If you want to wipe it completely, the following suggestions are a starting point:

Back up the device before any procedure.

Download a remote wiping app. Here are lists of popular apps for wiping iPhones and Android devices.

Clear the internal memory.

Follow the manual factory reset instructions.

Get software that – among other things – includes a SIM card lock.

Record your phone’s unique ID number for future reference.

For more complete instructions on how to delete cell phone data by type, follow these steps for iOs and these steps for wiping Android-based devices.

Be vigilant about your mobile security

If you’re like most people, you’re likely not taking care of mobile security like you should. Start now by taking basic steps to protect the information on your phone before it gets lost, stolen or you decide to place it on the great e-heap of misfit tech toys. For example, set a secure PIN and update your smartphone when security fixes are available.

Remember that even by taking all the proper steps – and there are much more than the list above and vary device to device – it still may be more prudent to use your outdated smartphone, tablet or another mobile device for target practice or as a paperweight. Even “hobby hackers” can weasel their way through your wipe. Is your identity really worth a few bucks?

If you want to completely wipe away the data on your hard drive, for example to sell or recycle it, follow these instructions.

Why wipe your hard drive?

Wiping your hard drive completely erases all the data on the drive. Deleting data or reformatting the drive leaves enough information to make the data recoverable using certain tools.

If you have partitioned your hard drive, be sure to wipe the data in all the partitions.

Migrate existing data

First, copy the data you want to save to another drive. This process will delete all your data and make it unrecoverable. If you have a cloud account, such as iCloud or OneDrive ® , you can copy your data there. An external storage drive is also convenient if you don’t have a cloud account. If you are wiping your hard drive in preparation for replacing it, you can move your data to your new storage drive.

If you’re going to be using a solid state drive, you will also want to transfer data from your existing drive to your new SSD. Find out more about migrating existing data to an SSD.

Wiping your hard drive

Microsoft ® Windows ® 8.1 and 10

If you’re using Windows 8.1 or 10, wiping your hard drive is easy.

  1. Select Settings (the gear icon on the Start menu)
  2. Select Update & security, then Recovery
  3. Choose Remove everything, then Remove files and clean the drive
  4. Then click Next, Reset, and Continue

Microsoft Windows before 8.1

If you are using Windows 8 or earlier, you will need to download third-party software to wipe your hard drive. Be sure to get software that meets the US DoD 5220.22-M requirements for sanitizing a drive. Using this kind of software will take several hours or more, depending on how much data you have on your drive.

If your hard drive is going to be out of your control, because you’re selling or recycling it, it’s best to be safe and wipe all of the data off the drive so that it’s not recoverable.

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How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

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Selling your laptop? Make sure that all your sensitive data is gone before it reaches its new owner

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

Laptops can reveal a lot about a person, and we’re not only referring to how well they are maintained. In fact, these popular devices are a minefield of information about their owner, and can oftentimes be used against them.

Anyone who has ever had their laptop stolen can understand the immense trouble that follows. Filing a police report and having to spend a few hundred pounds on a new device are often only the tip of the iceberg, especially if the stolen laptop contains sensitive information such as phone numbers, addresses, and credit card details. If the laptop was taken while it was unlocked and you allow your browser to remember login details, the criminals can also easily gain access to your banking account or any social media platforms. This could pose a real risk of not only financial theft, but also identity theft, with criminals potentially using your personal information to commit fraud or other crimes.

Given all these threats, no one wants their laptop stolen. However, this kind of personal data can also be obtained by strangers without having to steal it. For instance, you might be selling your old device, or returning it to your company’s IT team, who in turn will give it to a new joiner. This is why it’s always important to wipe your laptop before you let go of it for good – and no, we’re not just talking about wiping the screen with a cloth.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to clean your device off any data. This is in order to protect you from any data thefts, as well as ensure that your company isn’t subject to any breaches which could result in an expensive GDPR fine.

Back up important data

The first thing you must do is to ensure all of your files and folders are backed up and organised, do you don't wipe anything that you may need at a later date. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever access the data in future, you may need to reference something hidden away in archives in the distant future.

Getting rid of your computer? Laptops, mobile phones and other devices may contain personal information that you wouldn’t want others to see, such as passwords and credit card information.

It’s important to properly delete any personal information before you sell or dispose of your hardware, so that it cannot be accessed by anybody else either by mistake or for malicious purposes.

Also, if you have a device that is faulty think about what personal data is stored on it before you dispose it. Remember that just because a device will not turn on does not necessarily mean that the data is not accessible by someone.

Personal data can be stored on any device with a permanent memory, including desktop and laptop computers, external hard drives, games consoles, mobile phones, tablets, faxes, printers, and removable memory such as that found in digital cameras. When deciding what to do, consider the type of media the data is stored on and whether or not this is easily accessible.

Options for secure deletion

Physical destruction

This involves physically destroying the media so that it can no longer be used.

Once destroyed, data on the media will not be recoverable except using specialist, expensive equipment.

You can destroy the media without specialist equipment.

If you can remove the media you can destroy it separately and leave the device intact.

This is a good method of destruction for removable media such as CDs and DVDs.

You will have to replace the destroyed media with a new storage facility if you want to use the device again.

If you are not able to remove the media from the device you will have to destroy the device itself.

Removing the media may invalidate the warranty.

Fragment particles raise health, safety and environmental concerns. Consider specialist help for devices with hazardous elements eg mobile phones and batteries.

Secure deletion software

This involves using software to overwrite data one or more times.

Simple and cheap.

The media can be reused once the overwriting is complete.

Large drives may take some time to overwrite multiple times.

Ineffective on some media such as write-once CDs.

It may be difficult or impossible to remove the media from the device.

Restore to factory settings

Many devices offer a function to ‘Restore to factory settings’. This will return the device to the state in which you bought it.

Can be used on devices which do not have removable or otherwise accessible storage media.

This method relies on the device manufacturer to have implemented a secure wiping stage into the factory reset process.

You should check with the device manufacturer to determine if this is sufficiently secure.

Send to a specialist

There are many organisations which will securely delete data from a range of devices and types of media. These organisations will destroy or overwrite your data on your behalf.

A specialist organisation may be able to return, reuse or recycle your media or device after they have securely deleted your data.

You will need to check the organisation’s processes to be sure that your data will be securely deleted.

If you can, you should perform another secure deletion method or at least a ‘restore to factory settings’ before you send a device to a specialist organisation.

Formatting

Formatting media recreates the data structures and file system.

A full format can be used in conjunction with overwriting to provide further assurance that data cannot be recovered.

Where will I find my data?

Desktop and laptop computers will have a hard drive inside where your data is stored. Above you’ll see some common types of hard drives found in PCs and laptops.

Don’t forget that you may have personal data stored on other memory types such as USB drives, CDs and DVDs and SD cards (eg in a camera or mobile phone).

My data is in the cloud. How do I delete this securely?

Securely deleting data from the cloud or other remote storage service cannot be achieved by you running overwriting software. You should contact your cloud provider to see what service they offer to securely delete the data.

Where do I get overwriting software from?

Software products which can perform the secure deletion of data are available from IT security firms. There are also other software products (often free) which you can download and use. However, when obtaining software from the internet you should make sure this comes from a reputable source and that you review evidence that the software has been tested against the claims that it makes.

I cannot decide between physical destruction and overwriting.

In choosing between physical destruction and overwriting, the main point to consider will be whether or not you want to use the media again. Physical destruction will completely destroy the media so it is only appropriate if you are sure that you do not want to use it again.

What is the difference between data deletion and data destruction?

Data deletion is when data is removed and is no longer available in plain sight or can easily be recovered. If you delete an item to your recycle bin, perform ‘quick format’ of your a hard drive or perform a factory reset of your device, you will be typically deleting data. However, data recovery experts can restore this data. Even with that said, data deletion is generally an adequate method of removing personal data from a device in most situations.

In contrast, data destruction is when data is removed from your device and can never be restored, even be professional data recovery experts. Examples of data destruction are physical destruction of the data storage, secure data removal software or sending the data to a specialist data destruction company. You might consider data destruction if you feel the data on the device is of such importance that you would not want to risk the data ever being recovered by someone else.

Can I get someone else to securely delete data from my equipment?

Yes. If you are not confident in performing the deletion yourself you can get assistance from a professional who has experience in this area.

Keeping up with technological advancement can be something of an expensive and time-consuming process, and it’s not just about making sure to have the latest technology, either. There’s also the added headache of trying to get rid of your old devices. Computers are difficult enough to dispose of, without having to worry about someone grabbing them out of the trash and having access to all your sensitive, saved data. You also don’t always have to throw computers away at all! Like so many things, computers can be recycled, and we can tell you exactly how to wipe a computer before recycling it.

How to wipe a computer before recycling it

Before you wipe anything, you should make sure to save any important data on a backup drive. External hard drives, USB jump drives, or even cloud storage will work, but you can always port it over to your new computer too. Thankfully, most modern computers make this fairly easy — it’s a lot of cutting and pasting, or sliding files into folders.

To wipe the computer, you need to delete all the data that remains on the hard drive. This is not as simple as dragging all files to the recycle bin and deleting cookies, however, as several data recovery programs exist that can retrieve deleted data. Many can be found here.

The first step in this process is to manually delete files from the system. Shredding programs like File Shredder can overwrite the files and clean up the drive. It is recommended that files are shredded and overwritten several times to make them harder to retrieve. Data can be found on several drives within the machine, so each drive must be prepared in a different way.

Once you have completed the sometimes lengthy process of moving, deleting, and shredding your files, the next step is to format the computer. This means you restore the computer to factory settings. The process for doing this is different for a Windows PC, a Mac, and a Chromebook, of course, but all have fairly easy steps, even if you’re a novice.

How to wipe a Windows PC:

According to Consumer Reports, it’s important to back up your files and save the serial numbers for Office Suite and other software using an app like ProduKey. These are essential for reinstalling the applications on a new PC.

As far as formatting the system, all Windows versions have different procedures, but Windows 10 is a good place to start. Simply go to the Start Menu and click on Settings. Navigate to Update & Security, and look for the recovery menu. From there you just select Reset this PC and follow the instructions from there. It may ask you to erase data either “quickly” or “thoroughly” — we suggest taking the time to do the latter.

How to wipe a Chromebook:

Chromebooks are a lot easier than laptops because many of the files and apps you’re already using have their data stored on the cloud, on Google Drive. Getting the Chromebook to factory reset involves clicking on your account photo and opening the Settings menu. Scroll down to the Advanced section and look for the Powerwash section and icon. The process prompts a restart, during which all your personal information will be erased in its entirety.

How to wipe a Mac:

Wiping a Mac is honestly a lot less complicated than you might believe. Though, you may need to save all keychains, passwords, account keys, and what have you to a flash drive before wiping. This will also keep track of random WiFi passwords and online retailers you’ve used for years. Restart your computer and as soon as startup begins, by holding down Shift + Option + Command + R until the Apple logo appears. This combination of keys will reinstall the operating system that came with your Mac.

The Utilities window should pop up in the middle of your screen. Open Disk Utility and erase your built-in hard disk. After that, elect MacOS Extended (Journaled) format and quit Disk Utility when the process ends. You’ll need to navigate back to the Utilities menu afterward so that you can reinstall the original operating system. Do this by choosing Reinstall MacOS or OSX within the Utilities menu.

How can computers be recycled?

Computers are recycled for the same reason anything else is recycled. We recycle computers so that we can reuse their old parts in new computers. There is a persistent and erroneous belief that the only reason we disregard old technology in favor of the new, is because the parts and processes of the older models have become obsolete. And in fact, the concept of a type of “planned obsolescence” is gaining increasing validity in the face of commercial, technological improvement.

Planned obsolescence is the idea is that products are planned and designed to be purposefully frail or to last for only a pre-planned amount of time before they need to be replaced. This does not work with every product manufactured today, but it can certainly work for appliances, cars, and computers. It is a topic that is enraging consumers and environmentalists the world over, according to The Guardian.

How to wipe (securely erase) your devices before disposing of or selling them

When it’s time to donate or ditch an old flash-memory drive that stored sensitive information, deleting those files isn’t enough. The safest way to wipe the slate clean is actually to encrypt it — and that’s not as hard as it sounds.

The computer industry’s migration from hard drives to flash drives has mostly brought good things. Flash drives work faster and, since they store data in solid-state memory instead of on spinning magnetic platters, they also work longer.

And they’re a lot smaller. If you’re not sure if your external drive is flash or not, seeing if it fits cleanly into a shirt pocket should is your easiest cue, followed by its complete absence of noise.

But when it’s time to wipe a drive so you can sell or donate it to somebody else, flash drives impose complications that hard drives don’t: Because they automatically move bits of data to less-used areas of the drive to extend longevity, the traditional secure-erase technique of overwriting files with random data may not clear out all of it.

That’s why Apple removed the “Secure Empty Trash” command from the macOS Finder in 2015’s El Capitan version. It didn’t want people thinking they could scrub a file from a drive when the attempt might not succeed on a flash drive.

You can still use the method of dumping random data three times in a row on an entire flash drive, although tools to do that are less than obvious in both Windows 10 and macOS High Sierra.

On a PC, open the command prompt from the Start Menu and type “format e: /p:3,” (if “e” isn’t the letter for the flash drive, change that accordingly). On a Mac, open the Disk Utility app, select the drive, click “Erase,” then click “Security Options…” and move the slider control to the third, “3-pass secure erase” option.

Mike Cobb, director of engineering at the data-recovery firm DriveSavers, noted that your flash drive’s vendor may provide an app with simpler secure-erase tools, pointing to ones from Intel, SanDisk and Samsung.

The other reason to avoid this method is that it can be painfully slow on large drives–a 2017-vintage Windows laptop needed 22 minutes to do a triple overwrite of a 4 GB flash drive.

Encrypting the entire drive to make its contents unreadable without a key–then erasing it and encrypting it again–takes much less time to make your data disappear. Both Cobb and Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist for the Center for Democracy & Technology, endorsed that strategy.

On a Mac, right-click the drive you want to wipe and select “Encrypt” and then follow its prompts. If you don’t see that prompt, it may be because the drive was formatted for use with Windows systems; open Disk Utility, select that drive, click “erase” and go with the default settings. Either way, you’d then use Disk Utility to erase the drive, then repeat the encryption step. Finally, erase it in Disk Utility again to leave it free for the next user.

Things are a little more complicated in Windows, thanks to Microsoft not supporting disk encryption in the Home editions of Windows. (Dear Microsoft: Home users care about privacy too.) If you run a home version of Windows, you’ll have to use the open-source VeraCrypt app for this task.

Install and run it, then click “Create Volume” and then “Encrypt a non-system partition/drive.” Choose “Standard VeraCrypt volume,” click “Select Device” and then “Removable Disk”–where you should only see one drive selected, assuming you unplugged other external drives first.

After encrypting the drive, reformat it (right-click it on the Windows desktop and choose “Format…”), then repeat the encryption step. Reformat it a second time so the next user doesn’t get a prompt to decrypt it.

This is a bit more work than taking a crowbar to a dead hard drive. But learning how to encrypt drives–a must if there’s any risk of somebody stealing your computer–is worth going to that trouble.

Before you get rid of your old computer, think about what important information you want to save. Do you have photos, videos, or important documents you want to save? How much storage space will you need to save that information?

Knowing what you want to save and how much space you’ll need will help you choose the best solution. Here are some options for saving or backing up your information.

Transfer your files to your new computer. If you bought a new computer, you can transfer information from your old computer to the new one. Most operating system manufacturers have support articles that tell you how to do this.

Save your files to an external storage device. A USB flash drive is an affordable option that offers a moderate amount of storage. Another option is an external hard drive. It might cost a little more than a USB drive, but it can give you more storage capacity and transfer data faster. You can decide which files or folders to back up, and you may be able to schedule automatic backups.

Save your files in the cloud. There are many cloud storage services that let you save files and data online. You may be familiar with some, like Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, or iCloud, but there are many others out there. Many of these services come with some free storage space and you can pay for more storage.

When you save your information in the cloud, you’re trusting someone else to keep that information safe. If you’re thinking about using cloud storage, find out what level of privacy or security the different services offer. Do they have privacy and security settings you can adjust?

Do they use encryption to protect your data? (Encryption is the process of scrambling the information to hide the contents of the file.) A service that encrypts your data when it’s transmitted to and from the service, or when they store it, provides a higher level of security than one that doesn’t.

Sign Out of Accounts, Disconnect Devices, and Erase Your Hard Drive

After you save your personal information, however you save it, sign out of all your online accounts from the computer you’re getting rid of. Un-pair your computer from Bluetooth devices like a mouse, keyboard, or wireless display.

Then, erase your computer’s hard drive. Look for a program or function on your computer that will let you erase all your files from the hard drive and reset it to factory settings. If it doesn’t have one, look for expert reviews online to see what programs are out there and which ones are compatible with the type of computer and hard drive you have.

Safely Dispose of Your Computer

You’ve saved your personal information and wiped your hard drive clean. Now you’re ready to get rid of that computer. Most computers contain hazardous materials like heavy metals that can contaminate the earth and don’t belong in a landfill. So what are your options? You can recycle or donate your computer.

Computer manufacturers, electronics stores, and other organizations have computer recycling or donation programs. Check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s Electronics Donation and Recycling page to learn about recycling or donating your computer.

You saved your personal information. Wiped your hard drive clean. And safely disposed of the old computer. Now learn how to protect your new computer from hackers with these computer security tips.