Category: Security tips

How to Erase Your Data From an Old Computer or Phone

delete data

If you’re disposing of old documents such as bank statements and tax forms, security experts recommend shredding the paperwork so it can’t be used by identity thieves. Simply deleting the data by emptying the “trash” folder won’t totally wipe all that information away.

Before you dispose of an old personal computer, the experts recommend that the very least you do is reformat your hard drive and reinstall the operating system. A better bet is to wipe your hard drive clean. It’s a practice everyone should be familiar with, since it may be the top recommendation for preventing identity theft.

However, many consumers and organizations are turning to a paperless world, and records once held in filing cabinets are now stored on computer hard drives. But computers eventually get replaced, and old computers are donated, recycled, handed down or refurbished — often with personally identifiable information (PII) still on the machine.

An even easier way to do this, provided the user has Windows Vista or better, is to create a system repair disk and then format the hard drive using the standard format command.

Make sure that the computer technician is one who understands that deleting a file, formatting a hard drive or reinstalling an operating system doesn’t render the data unrecoverable. Those technicians will know enough to identify the proper tools to wipe your drive.

Eliminating personal data from personal computers kept at home is relatively easy. The real problems lie with mobile devices and work computers. Smartphone and tablet owners now store a great deal of personally identifiable information on these devices.

Apps are available to “wipe” the devices if they are lost or stolen, but the technology is still relatively new and these apps leave some data behind. Ideally leave your banking, personal emailing and social networking to your home computer. That way, you can control what happens to your personally identifiable information when the time comes to get rid of your old equipment.

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Source: Associated Press



How to securely wipe sensitive files–or your entire hard drive


When you delete a file, it doesn’t actually go away–even after you’ve emptied the Recycle Bin. The actual bits remain written on the drive until some other disk activity writes over them. Even when you format a drive, the files are still there for those who want and know how to read them.

If you want to truly and securely delete a file, or the contents of an entire drive, you need software that will overwrite the space where the file(s) once sat. Fortunately, several free programs can do this.

First, we recommend Eraser, which integrates with Windows Explorer. Once it’s installed, you can just right-click a file or folder and select Eraser. There’s even an option to erase the file the next time you boot–handy if Windows won’t let you erase it now.

Another option: Delete the files the conventional way, empty the recycle bin, then use CCleaner to overwrite your drive’s free space. This extremely useful tool can do all sorts of Windows scrubbing chores. You’ll find CCleaner’s Drive Wiper tool in the Tools tab.

Both of these programs offer various wiping techniques that overwrite the drive space multiple times. The implication, of course, is that overwriting a file 35 times is more secure than overwriting it only once.

Something else to think about: If you have sensitive files that you’ll eventually want to securely delete, you should encrypt them now.

Make your passwords harder to crack


Internet security has become an issue recently, especially with that large network hack attack every now and then. There’s nothing you can do if hackers get into a database with your password in it, but you can still protect yourself for all the other worst-case scenarios involving hacking. A strong password will protect your personal, sensitive information, including credit card numbers, social security number and other personal information. First, don’t make it easy on hackers by choosing a common password. Also, don’t use your name, a password related to another one you might have on a different site, or a login name.

Additionally, hackers and identity thieves have altered their methods to extend beyond high-risk sites. They now capture user information from social networking sites and other sites that require personal information. Therefore, your password strength should also apply to any site that requires personal information.

The definition of a strong password usually differs by each site. One site may tell you that the strength of your password is strong, while another site may say it is weak. This usually depends on the popularity of the site and its risk of account hackings. Here are some basic factors that make a strong password:

  • Any password that is at least 15 characters long
  • Any password that contains upper-case letters
  • Any password that contains numbers
  • Any password that contains symbols, such as @,#,$,%,&,*
  • Any password that is not a previous or already used password
  • Any password that is not related to a previous password
  • Any password that is not your name
  • Any password that is not your friends’ name
  • Any password that is not your family’s name
  • Any password that is not a common word
  • Any password that is not your login name

Instead, experts recommend using 15 characters, upper-case letters, better yet nonsensical words with special characters and numbers inside them.