Before you toss your old cellphone, computer or gaming console in the garbage, consider all the sensitive information you may have stored on the device over the years that hackers would love to have – including financial information, passwords and social media accounts.
Simply deleting files or erasing storage devices isn’t enough. When you delete files, although the files may appear to have been removed — data remains on the media even after a delete or format command is executed. Bad actors with even limited technical ability can easily recover the information.
Here are some methods recommended by US-CERT for cleaning devices before you get rid of them:
Computers: Use “Secure erase,” which is a set of commands in the firmware of most computer hard drives. If you select a program that runs the secure erase command set, it will erase the data by overwriting all areas of the hard drive. Alternately you can use a “Disk wiping” utility that erases sensitive information on hard drives and securely wipes flash drives and secure digital cards.
Smart Phones/Tablets: Ensure that all data is removed from your device by performing a “hard reset.” This will return the device to its original factory settings. Each device has a different hard reset procedure, but most smartphones and tablets can be reset through their settings. In addition, physically remove the memory card and the subscriber identity module (SIM) card, if your device has one.
Digital cameras, media players, and gaming consoles: Perform a standard factory reset (i.e., a hard reset) and physically remove the hard drive or memory card.
Office equipment (e.g., copiers, printers, fax machines, multifunction devices): Remove any memory cards from the equipment. Perform a full manufacture reset to restore the equipment to its factory default.
Destroying: Physical destruction of a device is the ultimate way to prevent others from retrieving your information. Specialized services are available that will disintegrate, burn, melt, or pulverize your computer drive and other devices. These sanitization methods are designed to completely destroy the media and are typically carried out at an outsourced metal destruction or licensed incineration facility. If you choose not to use a service, you can destroy your hard drive by driving nails or drilling holes into the device yourself. The remaining physical pieces of the drive must be small enough (at least 1/125 inches) that your information cannot be reconstructed from them.