How to Wipe the Data from Your Old Computer

How many of you have an old computer (or several old computers) sitting in the attic of your house because you don’t want to throw it away?

This is a real, and legitimate, concern and something that almost everyone thinks about when they are buying a new computer.

It’s one thing to get the data transferred from your old computer to the new one – most companies offer this as a service when supplying the consumer with a new PC or laptop and if they don’t, its quite easy to transfer data from one to the other using a USB drive. However, what you do with the old computer after transferring your data is quite another matter.

It is Very Hard to Delete Data from a Hard Drive

Most people are at least partially aware of this fact: It is very hard to completely remove data from a computer. Without going into too much detail the data on your hard drive is organised and accessed using a file allocation table. This makes it easy for the computer to find the data on a hard drive even if that data is stored in several different locations. When that data is deleted from the computer it is removed from the file allocation table but crucially it is not physically removed from the hard drive.

Even if you delete a file, then empty the recycle bin, the data is still not destroyed. In fact, even if you format the hard drive and reload the computer, that data is not necessarily destroyed.

You may not be aware of those technical details, but most people are still fearful of throwing away their old computers because of these very reasons – what if someone manages to get hold of that data? And that concern is very real – with internet banking being the norm these days the data on a typical home computer can be very sensitive, let alone a business computer.

How to Destroy Your Data

So, if you want to throw away your old computer and free up some space in your attic how can you do so safely? The answer is to securely erase all the data from your hard drive before you throw it away.

The easiest way of doing this is by using data erasure software to format the drive. This software can securely wipe all the data from the hard drive. And this doesn’t just mean removing that data from the file allocation table but also destroying the physical data from the hard drive. Once again, without going into too much detail, this is done by writing over every single drive sector with random characters. This ensures that every last byte of data that was on the drive, is directly over-written and destroyed.

These programs will work perfectly with your old computer hard drive but they also work with camera data cards, USB flash drives and pretty much any other data storage medium.

What If I Can’t Access My Old Computer?

If your old computer is not working or not booting up properly you still have a couple of choices. You can either pick up an external drive caddy so that you can attach your old drive and read it from your new computer, or if all else fails, you might have to resort to physically destroying your old hard drive – for example by hitting it with a hammer. Although this is not recommended unless you have no other options. The reason being that even physically damaged drives can still have data restored from them in some cases – so if you want to be safe then using a secure data erasure program is the safer option by far.