Think Twice Before Dumping Your Old Computer – Hard Drives May be Littered with Sensitive Data

(PRWEB) December 22, 2004 — Expecting a brand new PC or laptop this holiday season? Treating yourself to a cutting edge computer to kick off the new year? If so, you had better think twice about what happens to your old hard drive, because it probably contains personal or financial information that you wouldn’t want to fall into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, many users don’t understand how to properly dispose of their old data, and as a result, millions of hard drives with sensitive information end up on the second-hand market every year.

When the majority of computer users decide to upgrade, they simply delete their more personal files or format their disks through the operating system, thinking that when the computer says “all data will be lost” that the information will indeed be gone forever. What most users fail to realize is that the actions of deleting and formatting do not actually remove data from the disk; these commands simply label the affected disk sectors as “free space” within that particular file system.

Consequently, this information is usually recoverable through easily-obtained utilities, and former users run the risk of becoming identity theft victims, or revealing highly personal information or trade secrets. Corporations, which often dispose of hundreds of computers at a time, are faced with liability risks if confidential information is not sufficiently wiped out.

Kessler International, a New York-based computer forensics firm that specializes in data recovery, has extensive experience with this issue, having recovered hundreds of incriminating files for legal professionals, as well as salvaging data for clients who have mistakenly deleted important information.

“The used hardware market is literally swarming with sensitive personal information,” says Michael Kessler, President and CEO of Kessler International. “Social Security numbers, credit card information, confidential health care dossiers… you name it, it’s out there, and it’s easily available to people with the right tools.”

According to Kessler, the only way data can be completely eliminated without physically altering the drive is if it is overwritten by new information. It has been contested that even overwritten data can be recovered, but there is currently no public evidence to support this theory, and certainly no evidence that it can be done without extremely sophisticated equipment.

If you are planning to replace your obsolete hardware, Kessler recommends that you follow one of these procedures to ensure that your data is completely expunged:

– Destroy your hard drive. Smash it with a hammer, melt it with a blowtorch, do whatever is necessary to transform it into a pile of rubble. This is the most foolproof way of eradicating your data, although you will obviously lose out on any potential resale opportunity.

– Use a disk sanitization utility to completely overwrite and remove data from your hard drive. Tools such as AutoClave and Eraser (both available for free download) will render disk information unrecoverable, thus allowing you to safely reuse, sell or donate your old drive.

– Retire your drive (along with the rest of your computer) with your PC manufacturer or a reputable computer recycling facility. These services will make sure your disk is wiped clean before it is reused, or totally destroyed if it is to be recycled. Many computer manufacturers provide recycling services for free, and some services will also allow you to share a percentage of second-hand resale revenues or offer a credit toward future purchases.

Some will also suggest using a degausser, a machine that randomly rearranges the magnetic particles on the disk surface. Kessler does not recommend this method. While these machines are certainly ideal for data storage tapes, they may not be strong enough to properly affect a hard drive, and even if it does, it will likely render the drive unusable.

Remember, deleting files or formatting your hard drive is never enough to ensure that your confidential data is securely erased. In order to guarantee privacy and avoid the possibility of identity theft or fraud, make sure that you dispose of your drive’s contents in a secure manner before getting rid of your old system.

For more information about Kessler International or to learn more about computer forensics services such as data recovery, contact Michael Kessler at 1-800-932-2221 or visit Kessler International online at www.investigation.com




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