How to safely get rid of your old computer while protecting your data

How to dispose, donate, recycle, sell, or give away an old computer without giving away any important data, explained tutorial and examples of what you should and what you shouldn't do.

Physical Hard Drive

When you are disposing, donating, recycling, selling, or giving away an old computer; your biggest concern must be your personal data. There are some things that you should know and steps that you should follow before getting rid of your old computer.

If you are like most people and you use your computer to check your bank account, control your finances, do your taxes, upload personal pictures and files; etc. A lot of these actions will generate data that gets stored in your computer and you could be giving away really important information; e.g., name, address, bank account numbers, usernames and passwords, tax information, social security numbers, and many more depending the way you use your computer.

One thing to notice is that when you are deleting the data from the hard drive, it does not get destroyed; it’s just marked as deleted and not shown to the user anymore.

I am going to describe a couple of scenarios in which people may think that their data is not accessible but they are wrong.

In this first example, we find someone who deletes some of the operating system files (Windows, Mac OS; etc.), then the computer will not boot up. By doing this the person will think that the data is safe and it will not be accessible again, but it is not. Anyone with a little computer knowledge could get your data easily by repairing the operating system installation, connecting the hard drive as slave to another computer, or using a USB adapter.

Others could just delete all their important data of the hard drive’s computer and think that it will be Ok. Wrong again! There are many software and companies dedicated to recover data from almost any storage media.

So, how do we deal with this problem?

First and foremost, you should always make a data backup first; in case something goes wrong or you need the data later! Also, sometimes when you buy new software you may be able to re-use it in another computer as long you uninstall it from the old computer. So, make sure that you check for any software that you may want to keep.

1.  The most effective way, 100% guaranteed, that your data will not get into the wrong hands; is to physically destroy and pulverize the hard drive, period!

2.  Another effective way is for you to keep or replace the old hard drive and get rid of the computer.

3.  If you are not willing to do the first two methods mention above, there are various methods that could help to make really difficult, but I should say not impossible, for someone to get access to your data:

a.  You could search for some software online that tries to delete all your data without destroying your operating system installation.

b.  If you have the recovery discs that came with the computer, you could use them to restore your computer to the manufacture state and choose to recover, deleting all the data.

c.   The last method that I will mention is to wipe out the whole hard drive’s computer with special software that will completely delete all the data.

Here are 2 great free software tools that could help you to securely delete data from a hard drive:

  • Eraser: Is a Windows utility that allows to completely erased files from your computer by overwriting it several times with special patterns of 1s and 0s.
  • Darik’s Boot and Nuke (“DBAN”): It is a great tool that allows you to securely wipe out most computers’ hard drive beyond recovery.

Leave a comment if you use different software to delete your data, free or paid.

Conclusion

You should always care about you data. Giving away important information could cost you identity theft and a large number of other problems. Now that you have more information take the time and figure out what is the best way to protect your data, and think that $50 bucks in a new hard drive is better than have your credit card stolen and charged it with $500, right?

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About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows expert and the Editor-in-Chief who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He is also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 12 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows, software, and related technologies, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and About.me.