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Protecting yourself, data when recycling

When donating or recycling used computers, it’s important to keep your personal files out of the wrong hands.

Simply deleting files from your computer does not clear the information from your hard drive. Armed with the right tools, even an inexperienced crook can recover client data, legal documents, credit card numbers, browser history, passwords and e-mail from a discarded drive.

Knowing the proper methods for erasing this information from your hard drive is key when it comes to prevention of data theft and other consequences of e-discovery.

John Simek and Sharon Nelson of Sensei Enterprises in Fairfax recommend several methods for cleaning up a computer’s hard drive.


There are a number of disk-wiping programs available through retail outlets and on the web. The software works by overwriting the data while preserving the actual drive.

Simek and Nelson recommended DBAN. Short for “Derik’s Boot and Nuke,” this free, open-source software is available only on the Web at www.dban.org. From the site, you can download and save the program onto a disc or USB drive. When the computer is rebooted with the software inserted, the data wiping software activates.

While many programs are capable of multiple wipes, it’s not necessary run the program more than once. According to Nelson, one sweep might not remove every single layer of data, but it’s been proven that nothing of value is recoverable after this first pass, so long as you wipe the entire drive.

Another software option is Active@ Kill Disk, available at www.killdisk.com. The website offers a free downloadable version, or you can purchase the professional version, which retails from $40 to $60.

For those seeking a quicker, more efficient way to wipe a hard drive, Simek and Nelson recommended product called the Drive eRazer. Using this device, you can clean up your hard drive without having to download and run a computer program. In fact, you don’t even need a computer.

Instead, this 3 x 2-inch, stand-alone gadget plugs directly into a hard drive. Similar to the software products, the device overwrites the entire drive, completely erasing its content. The eRazer purportedly works faster than software, erasing a 250GB hard drive in less than two hours.

Five different models are available at www.wiebetech.com/products/Drive_eRazer.php, with prices starting at $100.


One downside to wiping a drive is that it takes a lot of time. For firms replacing a large quantity of computers, it’s more cost effective to destroy the drives physically.

To save valuable time and staff resources, firms and businesses can ship hard drives to a shredding company. At these facilities, materials are run through an industrial-strength shredder and processed for recycling.

Simek and Nelson recommended Back Thru the Future (www.back thruthefuture.com). This company operates a recycling warehouse in New Jersey, but works with consumers and businesses from across the country to provide secure data destruction and environmentally safe recycling.

Other devices to consider

When disposing of office equipment, be thorough when it comes to protecting your data and keep in mind that recoverable electronic files are stored on more than just computer hard drives.

“A lot of folks don’t realize a digital copier has a hard drive inside of it,” said Simek. If you sell, donate, throw away or return a copier after a lease, you may be turning over confidential information.

According to Nelson, some digital copier models, such as the Konica Minolta, erase their hard drive data every time they copy. However, not all machines do this by default. On some models, this feature only comes as an add-on, and usually at a pretty hefty cost. It’s important know these details before buying or replacing a copier.

Smart phones are another potential goldmine for data thieves. These devices contain memory cards that store call logs, calendar items and e-mail, along with other bits of information. The amount of recoverable data depends on the product.

“Blackberrys hold the least data, iPhones are evidence-rich and Droid is somewhere in the middle,” said Nelson. Before replacing a phone, contact your service provider or phone manufacturer for instructions on destroying this information.

Related article: Old computers get new life through recycling

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