It takes more than simply deleting your files to ready a computer for recycling or donation.
When you use a computer, a lot of different files and traces are created that contain information about your actions, as well as data that you may have created or downloaded including personal and financial information. Depending on the skill level of the person who takes possession of that donated or recycled computer, elements of this information can be reconstructed and used against you.
For example, it is easy to find an application that can ‘undelete’ files. Using such an application doesn’t require any skill beyond knowing these applications exist. If you’ve just deleted anyone can install an undelete application and recover those files.
Even when you have securely deleted your personal files, your memory dumps, browser history, browser temporary files and cookies can be accessed and used to recover usernames, passwords and other personal data that can be used to take over accounts, steal identities or be abused in other ways. While not everyone can make sense of this data, but there are enough computer literate crooks that have these skills for you to want to take that gamble.
The best approach is to not take any chances and to thoroughly, securely erase everything. The best way I know for you to do this, is as follows:
NOTE: THIS IS EASY TO DO. If you have ever installed or uninstalled a program, you have all the skills you need.
- Save any information you want to keep from your computer to an external location like an external drive, CD’s, Flash drives, or a cloud storage location – after you take the steps outlined below, your information will NOT be recoverable.
- Using your file explorer, delete all the files and directories that may contain personal information.
- Uninstall any applications you have ever used to access or create personal information.
- Run a secure file deletion or computer clean-up application. An excellent choice is the award winning R-Wipe and Clean.
- Download the software and install it.
- Run the software and check (select) ALL the check boxes on the left column, including the Unused space check boxes (this may seem counterintuitive, but the purpose of wiping unused space is to scramble any underlying data and prevent recovery of deleted files). Look at the graphic below to see all the boxes you need to check/select.
- Click “Start now” and let the program run its course.
These four simple steps should give you piece of mind that the computer you are recycling or donating is now free of your personal information.