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Your old computer has more sensitive information than the diary of a 13 year old girl. I doubt you would sell or give away that kind of a diary, but it seems wasteful to destroy a computer that could be perfectly good for someone else. So what can you do with an old computer that could still be perfectly useful to someone, without compromising the security of your tax documents, diary entries, embarrassing childhood photos, and other private information?
Deleting Doesn’t Cut It
Simply deleting a file is not sufficient for you to safely sell or donate your old computer. “Deleted” files actually remain on a computer until they are saved over with other information. They don’t show up on the regular operating system anymore, but those “deleted” files are easily recoverable by some nosy 10 year olds.
Completely Wipe The Hard Drive To Safely Sell Or Donate Your Old Computer
The entire hard drive needs to be wiped out to prevent any old files on the computer from being discoverable by a donee or subsequent owner. This sounds very technical, but it requires very little technical skill to do. If you can install a simple program on your PC, you can wipe your hard drive.
Step 1 – Get Free Software
You first need to download free software that will securely wipe your computer hard drive. I recommend Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN). Save the “DBAN 2.2.6 Beta” file to your computer.
Step 2 – Burn A Disk
You will need to save the file to a CD or DVD. Most computers now have CD or DVD burners. When you open your CD burning program, make sure to select the option to burn an “ISO” image. If you were looking closely, you will notice that the DBAN file you downloaded is a “.iso” file. Burn the disk like normal.
Alternative – You can also save the file on a USB drive if you want.
Step 3 – Boot Computer From The Disk You Burned
Now you need to put the burned disk with the DBAN file into your computer before you boot it up. If you have already booted up, restart the computer with the disk in. If you saved DBAN to a USB drive, plug that in before booting up or on reboot.
Step 3.5 – Configure Computer To Start From Disk Drive
If your computer started up like normal with DBAN in the disk drive, you need to reconfigure your computer to boot up off of the disk drive. You will need to restart your computer once again. Right when your computer is starting up, you will be able to access a menu with some very basic configuration options (the BIOS menu) if you press a button, usually “F2″ or something like that. Be quick because the screen only flashes for a few seconds.
Find the boot up options. Every menu is a little different at this stage, so you may have to search around for it. Once you have found the boot up options, make sure that the computer is looking to the disk drive where DBAN will be to boot up first. If you used a CD, look to the CD drive, if you used a USB, make sure the computer boots from that drive.
Step 4 – Point Of No Return
Make sure you really, really, really want to do this. There is no turning back from the next step. Back up anything you will need later.
Step 5 – Wipe Your Hard Drive
When your computer boots off of DBAN you will see a hideous blue screen and be given some options. You can simply type in “autonuke” then press “Enter” to erase your hard drive. This method is good, but it may miss some important data that can be recovered later. If you want to be very secure about erasing everything, follow this second suggestion.
Once your ugly blue DBAN screen comes up, hit “Enter” to go into interactive mode. Hit the letter “M” and then select “Gutmann Wipe” and press “Enter”. Use the “Space” key to select your hard drive. Press “F10″ to start wiping. This method will wipe your hard drive several times over and won’t leave any data behind.
Autonuke will take approximately one hour to completely wipe your computer. The Gutmann Wipe will take much longer.
Step 6 – Safely Sell or Donate Your Own Computer
You can now sell or donate your computer without having your data fall into the hands of strangers. The wiped computer will need an operating system do that before getting rid of it or let the next owner take care of it themselves.
You don’t have to destroy or throw out your old computers to protect your private data. You can still be generous or earn a little cash by selling or donating your old computer after wiping your sensitive hard drive of all private, personal information. These steps are for a PC. If you are donating a Mac, check out these other steps to delete your sensitive information.For other tips on protecting your digital privacy, check out the book How To Vanish.