The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that hundreds of millions of computers are thrown away every year. As an alternative, many people donate their computer to charity. Hackers can get personal information off old computers unless you take steps to stop them. Here are some ways you can protect your identity from being stolen from your old computer.
Back up Your Files First
Before you donate or dispose of your computer, back up your files on external media. You can back the files up on flash drives, external hard drives, or a CD. The files can also be copied to your new computer. Backup programs can be purchased or cloud storage programs may be used.
Don’t Just Delete
You may have heard that just deleting computer files on the computer doesn’t delete them. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team confirms that deleting files on the computer doesn’t necessarily delete the information. Pressing delete and emptying the trash bin just deletes the file name. The underlying file is still on your computer’s hard drive. Special software may be necessary to get the hard drive properly cleared.
File overwriting can deter hackers from retrieving your personal information. Overwriting programs puts random information all over the hard drive, including writing all zeroes instead of file data. This can create a lot of confusion and be very time-consuming to try to get around if someone were to access your files with mal-intent. Some tools erase individual files, all files, and completely wipe the hard drive. Different tools should be used for traditional hard drives and solid state drives. Some programs that will delete old information on hard drives are called “wipe programs.”
Physically Destroy the Drive
If you don’t want to donate the computer, you can remove and physically destroy the hard drive. The drive won’t be able to be read if you drive nails in it, drill holes, or smash it with a hammer. You can magnetically destroy the information with exposure to a strong magnet. The process is called degaussing, and a machine can be rented or bought that will magnetically remove all information from the hard drive.
After following the above tips, Hackers and ID thieves shouldn’t be able to get a hold of your personal information. You are then free to donate your computer or take it to an e-waste recycle center, like Ranch Town Recycling Center Inc.