When selling on an old PC or laptop, I’m sure most of us would remember to delete all of our files and information before listing it online. We are reminded constantly about how vulnerable we are when we enter private information online, but what isn’t made clear quite as often is how to correctly remove all of our data from our hard drives.
There’s more at stake than a few embarrassing photos and that dodgy poetry you wrote last summer. Passwords, personal information and bank details can be retrieved using widely accessible, and in some cases free software. The device doesn't even need to be operational for fraudsters to access your hard drive and extract private data; in fact it’s quite common for people to buy broken, damaged or old laptops for a pittance and access the contents with ease. In terms of what crooks stand to gain from doing this, the time, cost and effort needed is minimal.
At the time of writing there are around 180,000 used laptops listed on eBay, which is a potential goldmine for those with the know-how to retrieve deleted data. Simply deleting files doesn't mean that they can’t be retrieved, and there are still a large number of people who aren't disposing of their data and leaving it irretrievable. A study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found some shocking results:
“[Two graduate students] bought 158 hard drives on eBay and from online shops. Of 129 drives that worked, 69 had recoverable files and 49 contained personal information, including 3700 credit card numbers, medical data, and pornography. Only 12 of the usable drives had been properly purged”.
These statistics were taken from 2003, and one would expect that these figures have improved over the last ten years, however there are still lots of people that are unaware of how to properly delete their data. In 2009 Which? managed to recover 22,000 'deleted' files from 8 computers bought on eBay.
Laptops, PCs and phones are vulnerable even when thrown away. If the laptop is broken and you simply take it to the local tip or landfill, perhaps you would expect that it will never be used again. Be aware though, people scavenge for disused PCs and laptops for parts. In this instance, you would ideally destroy your hard drive completely. We value clients’ data, and offer a hard drive destruction service using our specialist apparatus - Bust a drive. If you want to be 100% sure that your information is safe then disposing of your hardware is the best way to do so.
Here's a short video demonstrating how Bust a drive works, and the results you are left with:
If you want to clear the data yourself, and leave the hard disk intact (which, if you’re selling a laptop is probably preferred) then there is software that you can download to completely erase it, and leave information no longer recoverable. Our recommended software would be DBAN. Available for free, this program completely wipes all memory and provides peace of mind when passing on your device.