Old Hard Drives

Good intentions aside, donating your old system to charity, churches etc., is a good practice but allowing them access to your data obviously isn't.

I thought everyone knew that deleting a file doesn't erase the file data. Of course, we all know that old saying about making assumptions.

After reading a number of articles about the presence of data on old hard drives, I decided that I would check it out for myself. I found an older machine with a working IDE hard drive and installed it into another system as the secondary drive. Then, using a universal hexadecimal editor (helpful in computer forensics, data recovery, low-level data processing, and IT security), I started browsing around the drive.

I decided to look in the middle of the hard drive, and sure enough, I found a lot of information. The hard drive was part of a computer used by a former employee for a company I had worked for before - and found enough damaging information that would have led to this employee's termination long before they quit on their own.

After looking around for a bit more, I decided I'd seen enough. That was all it took to convince me that there really is a serious security issue with old hard drives. How serious depends on what's on the hard drive itself, but I would say that the majority of companies don't adequately address this risk (or mention it at all).

Company computers for all kinds of reasons, and the machines (hard drives) often end up in a friend’s machine, auctions, churches or local computer resellers' shops. Identity theft and misuse of personal information is often a result of failing to successfully erase the data on old hard drives. Although this may sound unlikely, it's even possible to continue to read the "signature" of old hard drive data after someone has overwritten it.

If you use Norton Utilities, you may already be familiar with the Wipe Info feature, and you should definitely take advantage of it. There are also a number of free data-wiping utilities on the Internet. For example, although I didn't run it myself, Eraser for Windows seems to work quite well.

Bottom line: Before you downgrade that old system to the storage room, donate your old home computer to charity, or sell it, use one of these programs to wipe that hard drive clean. If you really want to destroy the data, you'd be amazed how flat you can pound an IDE hard drive with a sledgehammer (or open it up and use the magnets). Haven't you always wanted to do that just once? If you have an old hard drive, now’s your chance!

Darik's Boot and Nuke (a free tool)

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