It’s inevitable that you’ll get to a stage with your trusty computer where it starts making funny noises, freezes every other hour, or simply just slows down to the point of agony.
But, before it’s time to upgrade to the next model it’s important that you safely erase any sensitive data that you may have on your current hard drive.
Some people just go ahead and smash their hard drive, thinking that will do the trick. Surprisingly, smashing things is not always the answer. Hitting your hard drive with a hammer will probably do some damage, but not necessarily enough to wipe it clean of your data.
The best tactic is to tackle the issue before your computer is inaccessible, so you can back up all of the data you’d like to keep on an external hard drive (you should be doing this regularly anyway…), and then you can run some ‘secure erasing’ software to overwrite the information on your computer.
These kinds of software work by replacing your selected data with useless, random information, making it impossible for someone to access your data after the fact. Active@ KillDisk and Softpedia DP Wiper are both reliable, free downloads that will do the trick. Or, if you are a Mac user with Mac OS X 10.4 and later, the Disk Utility comes with secure erase options for you.
If you decide to erase your data yourself, keep in mind that things can go wrong. As David Moore from Flyingsolo says:
Step 1: If there’s anything you want from the drive/computer then back it up before you start. Seriously. Step 2: Securely erasing a drive can take a very, very long time. Step 3:You need to check just what is being securely erased and that it corresponds with what you need protected. For example, if you are erasing “blank space” your files should already have been manually deleted and removed from your recycle bin. Step 4:If you make a mistake you could kill the whole system as well as erasing data (though you may want to do that intentionally). Step 5:There are various degrees of secure erasing depending on how hard you need the recovery of the data to be. Some clever folks can get past single and even multiple overwrites if they really want to. Step 6:Some devices, such as Solid State Drives (SSDs), have built-in electronics that can confuse secure erasers and prevent them from doing their job. Things may look okay to you, but bits and pieces get left around the place without your knowledge.
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If you’ve left it too late and your computer is no longer accessible, or if you have particularly sensitive information on your computer (such as bank passwords), you can locate a refurbisher who can safeguard your data for you. Or, pop into your local computer shop and ask for their advice or for a referral.
So, good luck. If erasing the data yourself sounds like too risky a task for you to perform yourself, the least you can do is back your information up now so that at least you won’t lose any information. But, unless you’re happy for your private information to fall into the hands of any anonymous person, remember: don’t smash, secure erase instead.