Getting a new computer, notebook, tablet, storage device, memory stick, or other technology can be both necessary and enjoyable. Most of us will decide to dispose of our old equipment, but we have to do it right and in a responsible manner. Whether you sell, recycle, donate, or give away your old computers, cell phones, tablets, smartwatches, intelligent devices, voice-activated assistants, etc. you need to protect the information on them from exposure.

Deleting your information is harder than it seems. Systems are set up to protect us from losing information we need. When we delete a file, there are still ways to get it back. If any bad guys get a hold of your old device, they could recover your data and could blackmail you, steal your identity or money. Also, be aware that if any crimes done by bad guys using your old device are investigated by authorities, they will likely find information about you (the previous owner) somewhere in the system, therefore deviating the attention to you… imagine that!! I am sure you would not appreciate having the FBI knocking at your door, especially without having proof that you no longer own the device (so always ask for a receipt when selling or donating). Yes, it sounds extreme, but unfortunately, the possibility exists that your old device may end up on the wrong hands.

Acronis BackupTo prepare your device first back up your data. Then go folder by folder and program by program deleting your information including your address book, emails, email accounts, internet browsing history, cookies, passwords stored in your system, account numbers, financial information, client information, private health information, bookmarks, etc.

Try overwriting your sensitive data before deleting it. In other words, replace the data with false information, save it, and then delete it. This way, whatever traces of information that stay behind will show the overwritten information instead of your data.

Kaspersky Total SecurityDon’t forget to uninstall or delete programs on your old computer. The programs left behind could help open documents that you may have forgotten to delete or that are hidden in the system. You may consider using a disk-cleaning tool you can buy and install on your computer before disposing of it. Remember to uninstall that one as well.

Check all your device’s drives and media slots and remove any CDs, memory sticks and SIM cards.

You can also do a quick Internet search with the model of your device to find "how to" thoroughly clear your device. It is best if you can restore your device to “factory settings.” Many devices will give you the option under the “Settings” area.

If you decide to sell or donate your device, get the name of the person/organization you sold it to, the date, the location, and if at all possible have the buyer sign a "receipt" including the serial number of your old device. Consider this for tax purposes (donation) and for safety reasons in the event your old computer is used for nefarious purposes by a bad guy.

If you decide to recycle your old device - try smashing the hard drive before doing so (do be careful!)

As a last thought, you may also want to consider keeping your device and replacing your internal hard drive (HDD to SSD, for example). You may be able to get an extra year or two out of your old computer.

MSGL, MS, CISSP

Sources: Techsoup  /  ESET  /  US-CERT