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Permanently Wiping Your Laptop's Data

Over the last 12 months we have witnessed people become increasingly concerned about their privacy, the security of the data held on their various electronic devices and information stored in the cloud. A lot of this has been a direct result of the NSA “domestic spying” scandal and, more recently, the “Heartbleed” security flaw which left around half a million sites vulnerable to attack as news of its existence went public.

As one of the UK's leading electronic recycling companies, we see tens of thousands of devices every year that have not had their data permanently wiped from their storage. Many users believe that a factory reset, hard drive format or simply reinstalling their operating system will wipe their data from the device. This really could not be further from the truth.


What happens if a laptop or any other device isn't wiped?

Unfortunately, in a lot of cases that data then ends up in the hands of the new owner, where it could quite easily end up online or distributed via any number of alternative methods. We recently conducted some internal research to see just how much information the average laptop that comes through our offices contains and the results were staggering. The following results are from a recent bulk transaction, of which we recorded our findings from the first 100 machines:

  • 68% of laptops had not had their data permanently removed, allowing for recovery.

  • 12% contained indecent images of what appeared to be themselves or their partners.

  • We were able to recover family photos and/or videos from 44% of the systems we checked.

  • 4% contained videos of an adult nature, again appearing to be the previous owner and/or their partner.

  • We found details for 18 different bank accounts, which may or may not have been those of the previous owner's personal account.

  • On 38% of machines we were able to locate email, Facebook or Twitter login details.

When this amount of information can be retrieved in just a few hours, it's not difficult to imagine the levels of disruption to peoples lives that a determined person could cause.

Please note: All of the laptops were permanently wiped of all data before being dispatched to their new owners.


Covering the basics

While you may not have the knowledge or experience to completely wipe your system of all data, you can make it harder for a would be snooper to recover or use any of the information by following a few simple steps:

  • Ensure that you remove all external media storage, such as SD (memory) cards.

  • Perform a complete hard drive reformat, once you have backed up anything of importance.

  • Change your passwords to websites and services that you frequent, especially those that any may choose to exploit, such as online banking, email and social networks.

How to permanently remove all data from your laptop

While this can be done by anyone with a strong understanding of computer maintenance, one wrong mouse click could completely undermine the entire process. It's for that reason that we recommend that you have a qualified professional carry out the procedure, which should be relatively inexpensive.

There are plenty of 3rd party services out there that will ensure that your data is permanently destroyed and unrecoverable, however knowing what to look for is important. The company should always be reputable, so look for reviews online – especially since you'll need to send them your computer or device. See if anyone you may know has used a company who offer a similar service before and whether they were happy with it. Finally, it's also worth noting that any good data removal service will provide a certificate, ensuring you that your data has been erased and cannot be recovered.

Alternatively, if you're planning to use Bozowi's recycling services for any of your devices, you can simply add the “Permanent Data Removal” to your cart during the checkout process.


Potential Barriers

Over the years we have come across many barriers that have slowed us down while attempting to erase data from the various devices we have been sent. These range from laptops that are not in working order to systems having their hard drives tied to a specific machine. These sorts of issues can be complex and would take the typical PC user hours to address on their own.

Perhaps the biggest shake up to this area of data security over the last few years has been the rise of SSD's (Solid State Drives), which store data in a completely different way to the traditional SATA drives – requiring new methods to ensure the removal of anything they may contain. While some of the higher end SSD's do come with branded software to completely remove all data, it's still rare to see a manufacturer provide such tools. After all, they won't care about your data until you do.

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