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Getting rid of old computer; what should I do before proceeding?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / January 27, 2012 7:26 AM PST

Getting rid of old computer; what should I do before proceeding?

Hello, everyone, I had an old Windows desktop computer given to me by my son when he got his Apple and now I have upgraded to a HP laptop. My question is how do I destroy all the personal information on the old desktop, including all bank details? I got rid of the keyboard, speakers, etc., but I still have the main box that holds all the info. I am scared to throw it out, and it has been sitting in the corner of the room for nearly three years and is an eyesore. What are my options--as to what do I need to do specifically? A detailed explanation and step-by-step procedures are needed. Please help me; I would be ever so grateful. Many thanks.

- Submitted by: Shirley H.
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Remove and reuse or disassemble the hardrive

Simple - its all on the harddrive. Remove it and there is no information left on the computer. If you can reuse the harddrive somewhere else - like putting it in a portable case to use it as a USB external harddrive GREAT! Otherwise disassemble it - and while you are at it recover the two (or maybe 3) magnets and you'll have some really powerful refrigerator magnets - a lateral tap with a hammer and metal bar will nicely remove the magnet from its mount. While at it - then use the hammer to bash the disks. To recover any info at this point would require extremely advanced techniques - probably way more expensive than the info is worth.

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I like that
by Alain Martel1 / January 27, 2012 10:54 AM PST

Some other ways to destroy the hard drive:

Open the drive's case. Connect it. While it's spinning in the open, put a bit of sand paper on the plater, or touch it with a screw driver.

Remove the stickers with the warnings about voiding the waranty. Put some dirt inside. Plug in, shake and hit the drive. Have the computer try to boot from that drive a few times. Guarateed head crashes and scratched platers.

Forcefully plug the power connector the wrong way and send +12V in your 5V logic circuits. They will fry.

Unless the drive contains some industrial secrets, or information about/from some secret agency or the military, it WILL cost horibly more that what it may be worth.

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Destruction could be fun.
by EscapePod / January 28, 2012 5:23 AM PST

I agree with Ted de Castro. Originally, I used to run DEBAN (Derik's Boot and Nuke) to wipe the drive clean non-destructively. That used to take a looonnnggg time. Then I used to use a punch and a hammer and just wail away to damage it.
Most recently, I added an AK-47 to my gun collection. Yep, you guessed it. Now I take a few old hard drives (old IDEs too small to use in external cases) with me to the outdoor range, and use them for target practice. Very satisfying.

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Re: Destruction could be fun
by riveresk / February 4, 2012 2:58 AM PST

Not in the UK. We Brits are subject to very strict gun laws: definitely no AK47s. Your constitutional right to bear arms in the USA was given to you because of the fear that we Brits might come to take back our revolted colonies. If you see a bunch of guys disembarking with chain mail and longbows, be very afraid!

Sorry; this has nothing to do with computers but I couldn't resist it.

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OT: Right to bear arms
by bensagenius / February 5, 2012 10:21 PM PST

Actually this is in our Bill of Rights so that we might protect ourselves from ANY government -- including our own -- that tries to overstep its bounds.

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Re right to bear arms
by sea.bass / February 10, 2012 6:08 PM PST
In reply to: OT: Right to bear arms

this is in our Bill of Rights so that we might protect ourselves from
ANY government -- including our own -- that tries to overstep its

You make it sound as though this isn't happening with yours all the time?

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Long bows? Armor?
by dgodbey / February 6, 2012 10:20 AM PST

"Not in the UK. We Brits are subject to very strict gun laws: definitely
no AK47s. Your constitutional right to bear arms in the USA was given to
you because of the fear that we Brits might come to take back our
revolted colonies. If you see a bunch of guys disembarking with chain
mail and longbows, be very afraid!"

The long bow is indeed a formidable weapon, no argument! BUT, remember, we won our 'freedom' from the Crown by sneaking around and shooting at you from behind trees, AND y'all weren't using long bows then! We were even using comparable rifles like those the Red Coats used. By the way: Don't wear red when you get here, they'll mistake you for exotic deer in Pennsylvania! NOT a good idea. The better they can see you, the more likely they won't miss! LOL

By the way: did you mean revolted or revolting? LOL

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Two game wardens, seven hunters and a cow!
by riveresk / February 7, 2012 11:35 PM PST
In reply to: Long bows? Armor?

OK. I'll tread carefully if I ever get to Pennsylvania. I remember Tom Lehrer's song. My idea of chain mail and longbows came from the Peter Sellers film 'The Mouse that Roared'. Buy it or hire it some time. 'Revolted' or 'revolting'? No comment, but I'm glad my post made somebody laugh.

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Oh dear!
by dgodbey / February 8, 2012 3:01 AM PST

I can see all it now. 5,000 Brits wandering around in Chain Mail (I have the 'Mouse...' and enjoy it frequently) dragging a crate of hard drives around with cloth-yard shafts sticking through them. My God, that's scary! "But warden, isn't there an open season on these things? And by the way, how do you cook them, anyway? Nigel has one in a cooking pot boiling for a week and it's still not tender enough!" HAH LOL

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Very funny ......
by yesbys / February 8, 2012 9:41 AM PST
In reply to: Oh dear!

I got a good laugh out of this reply. You seem like somebody who can see the funny side in things that most people take to seriously . Good on you. The world needs more people like you.. Good luck in all your work. Denis

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by dgodbey / February 8, 2012 11:19 AM PST
In reply to: Very funny ......

Well, it's far better than groaning over some (most) of the silly and dangerous stunts these characters have been suggesting.

I take them like I see them. I guess it's more along the lines of Aesop's fable about the Donkey and the lions. They look like they know the answer until they display their lack of knowledge by 'sharing' their thoughts. Some of these folks would sharpen a lead pencil with a chain saw!

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Just destroy the hard drive
by timhood / January 27, 2012 9:05 AM PST

Hi, Shirley:

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by wintondwoods / February 3, 2012 9:14 AM PST

I agree that number one is the most fun. To be professional about it, however, I always recommend a large Framing Hammer which has sharp claws on one side. Use the claws and bang it until it falls apart and then mix up the parts and put them in different recycling bins. Even NSA won't find your tweets then!

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RE: Just destroy the hard drive
by dj_erik / February 3, 2012 9:24 AM PST

Wise choice... I work for an ISP, so when a failed drive happens, and it happens allot. Best choice is physical destruction. We usually smash and drill, but just smashing is good enough for most thieves. Honestly, the price for Iron Mountain to come out and destroy a drive is probably cost prohibitive. I would likely just take to a local store and ask them to remove it and give the hard drive back, so you can destroy. If the computer is new enough they might even take the parts to reuse, and the cost is nil to a rebate for yourself.

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hard drive
by jim shipley / February 3, 2012 12:29 PM PST

If you happen to be a tinkerer there is a valuable bit inside the hard drive. It has two small but extremely powerful magnets above and below the pickup coils. pry them out and you will be amazed how strong they are.

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Disk Wipe is a free
by franciemr / January 27, 2012 9:11 AM PST

program that does just what you want. But the problem that I see is you threw away the keyboard and mouse, and sounds like the monitor, too, since you said all you have is "the main box" which I'm assuming is the CPU where the data is stored. So I don't see how you can use this program. Maybe your son can assist or you take it to some PC repair place and pay to wipe the disk clean. Otherewise someone here will have to tell you how to take it apart and smash and destroy??

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Getting rid of old computer; what should I do before proceed

One thought for others to fill out for you: if you have another
keyboard, mouse and monitor, you could boot the system from a floppy
disk or rescue CD and then run a utility that will do a DoD wipe of all
of the data. I've heard that isn't totally foolproof but it could be
good enough, especially if you take steps to physically destroy the
drive when you are done.

Once you remove the hard drive, you can recycle everything else.

The hard drive will be a sealed box within the CPU with a power connection and a data connection. It is probably the size of a couple of decks of cards but could be larger depending on how old the machine is. There will be a sticker on it listing the manufacturer, model number, etc. (Seagate and Western Digital are common but it could be one of several others) Disconnect the cables. There may be a locking tab on the connectors, I can't recall. The drive will be held in place with small screws that will need to be removed.

At this point, you have a much smaller box to store or you can destroy the drive according to a method that I'm sure somebody more proficient than I will provide here. The destruction methods that I've used in the past wouldn't cut it for the Government or banking because a really determined professional could piece together some of your personal data.

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Reuse computer (new owner)
by iluvalvinn / February 3, 2012 9:36 AM PST

What if you have a computer that someone else had and now you want only your stuff on it? Don't want to destroy hard drive now.

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easy or hard, your choice
by Striker / February 3, 2012 10:00 AM PST

Good= just delete the old user account(s), after ensuring you have created your own...and an admin account.
Better= re-install the OS or install a new OS (or new version). This process might have the installer ask if you want to keep old accounts - just say no.
Best= is to reformat the hard-drive (use a boot floppy or the install CD with your OS of choice. Then Install the OS as a completely fresh installation.

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Best= is to reformat the hard-drive
by therolf / February 4, 2012 11:25 PM PST

Most computers don't have floppies anymore and reformatting does not destroy the stored data. Overwriting 7 times is an option if you want to keep the drive, but physical destruction, as suggested in previous posts is the cheapest way to prevent data retrieval.
Running a strong electromagnet over the drive may also work, but most people don't have one.
If you want to spend the time to disassemble you can run the platters through a paper shredder or cook 'em with a blow torch. Cool

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A "paper shredder"???
by btljooz / February 5, 2012 4:54 AM PST

Obviously NOT! Plain

And, simply formatting a hard drive simply does NOT get rid of information previously put there. Once data is put on a hard drive it is ALWAYS there from that point forward. I will now refer you to the rest of this thread, please re-read
all of the responses here and please pay special attention to the links that I have embedded within most of mine (especially the one entitled "Permanent and Irrevocable Data Destruction").

But the oxyacetylene torch will definitely get the job done! Cool And you're correct that it takes one heck of a very strong electromagnet to do the job as well. Most people think a speaker magnet will do it but that's just not true.

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A paper shreddar, I think not.
by ezymel / February 7, 2012 1:55 AM PST
In reply to: A "paper shredder"???

The thickness of the disk will probably ruin the blades on the shredder. The disk is thicker than a credit card and a much harder material.

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by dgodbey / February 8, 2012 5:29 AM PST

Sure, if you want to ruin a perfectly good shredder! The platters on a hard drive are metal NOT plastic.Actually, aluminum! It will jam the poop out of a paper shredder in a New York second! That grinding noise you're hearing are the gears being ground into shavings and that awful stench is the motor igniting (the smoke, too)! So, NOT a good idea!

Now, if you want to destroy a paper shredder...

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Easy solution.
by dgodbey / February 8, 2012 2:51 AM PST

Use DBAN to clean the drive, reset the partition table since it was wiped along with the stuff on the drive, format the drive, and start installing. The DBAN package is free to download and use. There are a couple of partitioning packages that are also free. Partition Master is one that works well. Go search for Partition utilities and find one you like. Once the drive is partitioned and formatted, it's 'virgin' so install the OS and other apps.

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Repurpose it.
by novice57 / January 27, 2012 9:37 AM PST

If the system has no practical purpose to you, it might to someone else. Check the brand of the hard drive and go to their website for a utility download that will wipe the drive beyond any reasonable need to secure the data from prying hackers. Once that is done you can safely donate or recycle the entire unit. Any repair shop will likely be glad to take care of that for you, just on the chance it may contain usable parts. If not, they can direct you to a recycle center. You might also try posting it as a freebe to Yahoo or Craigslist in your area. Your Windows license is still valid for that unit and some enterprising high school kid may find it just what he needs for a data server or firewall.

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You can do it the hard or soft way
by PerryTsang / January 27, 2012 9:48 AM PST

If you are handy with a hammer and a screw driver, simply remove the hard drive and smack it a few times with a hammer.
Or you can simply format the hard drive (make sure you can't start up the pc after it is done).

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Only real experts should do it the soft way.
by Gerdd / January 27, 2012 5:01 PM PST

If the drive is old enough there is no value to the storage space and remaining life span it offers. In that case the hard way of destroying it is definitely the method of choice - my favourite implement of destruction is the angle grinder - a rotating disk destroying a rotating disk ...

But maybe you do want to reuse the drive or give it to someone that would - but then you should donate the whole computer. In that case the soft way is the way to go. But it requires a good deal of insight into how data is stored on disks and how to get rid of it. The biggest gotcha here is that most ways of deleting data or even whole partitions just release the space containing the data for reuse by overwriting the directory or partition table information. Don't fret if you haven't heard these words before. All I am saying is that the data is still there but can't be found by the conventional means. But to experts - or users of programs written by experts - it is no challenge to get it all back - or at least most of it. So the trick is to also overwrite the actual data. This is not too hard but will be time consuming.

Yes you can buy programs that erase the data on the drive several times over, in line with DoD standards created decades ago when drives still worked differently. On reasonably modern drives and for data that isn't worth millions to an intruder a single complete overwrite should be sufficient. So, someone sufficiently computer-literate might do some or all of this:

- Run your computer from a different drive (or attach your drive to another computer as an additional drive.)
- delete all partitions on your drive (make sure this and all teh following happens to the correct drive - or else!)
- Create one partition covering the complete drive.
- format that partition with the "biggest" file system available (use NTFS if possible rather than FAT32, for instance.) For good measure, don't do a "quick format."
- Fill all available disk space with uninteresting data - use some big file you have and make enough copies to fill all space. Add smaller files to fill up the slack. Now all your data has been overwritten.
- Then, to confuse any attackers, delete all the files again, delete the partition and create several partitions on the drive (two or at most three should be optimal, depending on the size oif the drive.) and format them, possibly now using a different file system. Put a few unintersting files and directories on the drive, some of which you delete again.

Now if any attacker would use disk analysis software to find out the secrets of your drive he would find some hints of the files you put on last. Maybe he would also find traces of the big files you put on to erase all deleted data. But there is nothing left of your original data to suggest it was even there. Even the old school drive analysts wouldn't find much by "reading on the grass" (grass = the area between the written tracks that according to some may still contain traces of overwritten data since the heads are never aligned quite so precisely - hence the old rule hat you must overwrite your data seven times with different bit patterns - probably total overkill in your situation.)

I told you the angle grinder is quicker - and much more fun ...

If your community runs an annual fair, possibly you could also rent a stand there, get yourself lots of old hard drives from whatever sources (working or not) and offer the use of angle grinders and hammers (BIG ones!) for a fee. People can then come and buy a ticket to destroy a hard drive to reduce their own stress or agression levels. They can bring their own drives as well - if you are in the US, get them to sign an indemnity form, in case anything untoward happens - like they brought the wrong drive or the one belonging to their Ex ...

Then donate the money to charity and feel good!

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Soft way: Tips
by TDWolsey / February 3, 2012 9:30 AM PST

If you use the software method of data destruction, two things to make sure you do before running the software on a PC running Windows OS: 1. Turn off the paging file or set it to the very lowest setting, 2. turn off system restore. Restart the system, then run the overwrite/data destruction software.

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Not necessary
by dgodbey / February 6, 2012 10:25 AM PST
In reply to: Soft way: Tips

With DBAN, The restore function is not active during a run, so it isn't a problem and, since DBAN is a 'foreign' OS (ie, not windows), the paging file is not functioning.

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Simple solution.
by lumpee / January 27, 2012 9:57 AM PST

Just download and burn a copy of Linux Ubuntu to a CD,Install it on the old computer as a stand alone operating system. Ubuntu will clear your hard disk as it installs itself. Quick,painless and free.

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