FACTSHEET | Jan. 26, 2018

CYBERSECURITY FACT SHEET: Safely Disposing of Old Computers

Why do users need to be concerned about disposing of old computers?

Computers often hold personal and financial information, including:

  • Passwords 
  • Account numbers 
  • License keys or registration numbers for software programs 
  • Addresses and phone numbers 
  • Medical and prescription information 
  • Tax returns 
  • Files created automatically by browsers and operating systems
Just deleting files or reformatting the hard drive will not remove this information. When you delete a file, the links to reconstruct the file disappear, but the bits and pieces of the deleted file stay on your computer until they're overwritten and they can be retrieved with a data recovery program. To remove data from a hard drive permanently, the hard drive needs to be wiped clean or destroyed.

What can be done?
Utility programs to wipe a hard drive are available online and in stores where computers are sold. These programs are generally inexpensive. Some are available on the internet for free.

These programs vary:

  • Some erase the entire disk, while others allow you to select files or folders to erase. 
  • Some overwrite or wipe the hard drive many times, while others overwrite it only once.

Consider using a program that overwrites or wipes the hard drive many times. Otherwise, the deleted information could be retrieved. Or remove the hard drive and physically destroy it.