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How to securely erase your old hard drives, once and for all

Since the Help Desk was launched last year, we’ve received many requests for the best ways to preserve different types of data in our lives: think voice mails, conversations and even beloved videos at home.

In judging the status of our shared inbox, however, the opposite is also true. Many of you are excited to learn how to make some of your data disappear completely, even if it’s spread on social media or locked to old hard drives sitting around the house.

“I have many, old computers that I would like to donate to charity organizations for schools,” one reader wrote in an email. “I deleted the information on the hard drive but heard that just deleting the data does not delete it completely. Can you advise how to safely wipe data from a computer?

Unfortunately, they heard right: just because you deleted a file on your computer and emptied the Recycle Bin doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. Making sure the files are properly lost will take extra work, but if you’re considering donating, selling, or even recycling an old computer with its hard drive, it’s well worth the time. .

“There are a lot of stories about people buying used computers online and retrieving data,” said Andrés Arrieta, director of consumer privacy engineering at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It’s kind of scary. Your whole life is there. ”

If you’re serious about keeping your data away from potentially prying eyes, here’s how to safely erase your old hard drives.

For hard drives inside a working computer

If you can catch fire and use the computer you’re trying to get rid of, consider your own luck. With the right software, the process can be mercifully simple. Fortunately, in some cases, the operating system running the computer already has everything you need to safely erase the hard drive.

  • Click the Settings icon, then click “Change PC Settings”
  • Click Update and recovery, followed by “Recovery”
  • Under the heading Remove all and reinstall Windows, click “Start”
  • If prompted, select the “Thoroughly clean drive” option
  • Click the Windows button in the lower left corner, then the gear-shaped Settings icon
  • Click Update & Security, then “Recovery” in the sidebar
  • Under “Reset this PC,” click “Get Started,” then “Remove Everything”
  • When you get to the “More Settings” screen, click “Change settings” and make sure the “Clean data” and “Delete files from all drives” options are selected.
  • Click the Windows button on the toolbar, then the gear-shaped Settings icon
  • Click Windows Update. Then click Recovery and select the Reset PC option
  • Select “Remove all,” and click “Change settings” to make sure the “Clean data” option is enabled

For computers running even older versions of Windows – such as Windows XP, Vista, or 7 – you may need to turn elsewhere for the right tools. EFF also recommends using free apps like BleachBit and DBAN for safe deletion of individual files and entire hard drives, respectively.

This can also be used if you’re using the latest versions of Windows, too. These apps are perfect for dealing with more sensitive data that you want to lose, or if you want more control over how to erase and overwrite your hard drive.

  • Turn on (or restart) your Mac, and hold down the Command and R keys while booting-this will bring your computer into Recovery Mode
  • Log in to your account (if required) and click Disk Utility
  • Select the hard drive you want to erase and click the Erase button
  • Click Security Options and select how completely you want to erase the drive. Most people are good at choosing the second option, which writes down all your stored data twice.

For hard drives inside a nonfunctioning computer

If one of the computers you’re looking to dispose of responsibly doesn’t turn on, it may be more suitable for a trip to a recycling facility than an eBay buyer. But just because the thing won’t boot doesn’t mean the personal data stored on his hard drive has been lost for years.

We have to do something about that. And the first step is to access the hard drive itself.

For people familiar with the contents of a computer-or anyone who is excited to get around there-one way is to open the PC and grab the hard drive. Don’t worry: usually enough, it’s easier than it sounds.

Most desktop computers can be easily opened, and if there aren’t many parts along the way, disconnecting the hard drive doesn’t have to involve much more than removing some cables and removing a bracket. This process can be more tricky for laptops, so it’s a good idea to look for a repair guide or a YouTube tutorial for your specific model before getting started.

Once you are able to free the hard drive from its metal cage, use the USB drive enclosure or docking station to physically connect it to another computer, where you can use the software tool mentioned earlier to responsibly erase. it.

If this seems like a pain, there’s always an easy way: you can take your machine to a local repair shop where they can pop out the hard drive in minutes. . (For all its quirks, Yelp is a helpful place to start finding these stores.) They can also safely delete them for you, saving you even more time.

The Office Space approach

There is also the shorter technology – and some might say more therapeutic – approach. If you can physically remove your old hard drive from a computer that you plan to recycle anyway, take the drive out and use a liberal dose of its sledgehammer. A rock from your garden can also be used, such as using a drill to make four or five large holes around the center of the hard drive.

Basically, going for anything feels right if the name of the game does some damage to the style of Office Space. (Just don’t forget the safety glasses.)

“If you just throw it in the trash, sure, hammer,” Arrieta said. “Why not enjoy it?”

Specifically, what we’re trying to do here is to clean the drive platters, the spinning discs that our data is so good at, put on the magnet. Destroying these platters doesn’t always make your data completely unrecoverable, but it does make the process of rescuing any of that information more troublesome than its value in all except the worst cases. (If you keep, say, government secrets for example, you better cut the drive completely.)

Once you’ve had fun, though, don’t just throw the busted drive in the trash – find a local e -waste facility and drop its corpse there.

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