The importance of securely erasing your data

So, your laptop’s performance has been steadily declining and, after many weeks of frustration you’ve bitten the bullet and decided it’s time to replace it.

So, you’ve purchased your new machine, have transferred your important data and your brand-new, shiny laptop is all ready-to-go. Before you dispose of your old machine, though, you need to ensure you’ve securely erased the data held on it.

If you’re particularly vigilant, you may have deleted the contents of your storage media but, trust us, this really isn’t enough. No matter what kind of storage your machine uses, that data is still there in some way shape or form and can be recovered with relative ease with little more than off-the-shelf software.

When a piece of data is deleted, it is not actually removed from the drive. Instead, its location is removed from a file list so that the relevant operating systems knows that it can now write any data you create in the future on to it. Until new data is written to the same location, it’s still there!

So, if you were to now simply dispose of your laptop, who knows what information you’d be leaving on there for less-than-scrupulous individuals to exploit? Most of us have a copy of our CV stored on our machines, for example, and that alone is a potential treasure trove for those looking to steal identities. This seemingly innocuous document will contain your full name, date of birth, address, employment history, maybe even your national insurance number; quite literally everything they’d need and more.

We know what you’re now thinking: that the risk of someone finding your laptop – or any other storage media you dispose of for that matter – is minimal. You’d be right, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re taking a risk. Furthermore, the chances of someone breaking into your house are minimal, but does that stop you locking your door?

Over the last few years, we’ve received enquiries from multiple clients who, following them having received a list of files we could recover from their failed drives, claimed that there’d been a mistake; that several of the files listed weren’t theirs. In each instance, they’d sent us second hand machines and these files were created by their previous owners. They were easily recoverable with their presence – particularly as their new owners had in some cases possessed them for two years or more – being testament to resilience of data, the inspiration for this article and, ultimately, a palpable reason to remind people of the importance of keeping their data secure.

So, before disposing of an old laptop or PC, we’d recommend you remove its storage media and physically destroy it. Granted, it’s still technically possible to recover data from a hard drive that’s been smashed to smithereens (we’ve done it, believe it or not) but not without specialist equipment and considerable effort meaning that it simply won’t be appealing to any would-be data thieves.

This article was supplied by Jay Williams of Fields Data Recovery.
Bio: Jay Williams is employed by Fields Data Recovery as a communications officer and has been with the company for more than a decade. In his spare time, he enjoys gaming, exercising and persistently attempting to convince his wife that their two-year-old daughter needs a Nintendo Switch.

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