Jamie Spence – Guest Contributor
Dec 2 @ 7:00 pm

Houstonians, are you planning on purchasing a new laptop, notebook, or desktop computer for Christmas this year? Before you head over to Fry’s to check off your Christmas list, you’ll need to figure out what to do with your old devices. Chances are, you already have at least one old computer stuck in a closet somewhere. Instead of adding more clutter, why not just make arrangements now to securely dispose of your old devices?

“Why can’t I just delete my own information off of my machine and donate it?”

Just one hard drive can contain hundreds of thousands of files and unfortunately, this data can remain accessible even if deleted or reformatted. Your typical personal computer hard drive can contain credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and website logins and passwords. Work computers may hold confidential staff, client, or patient data, company financial records, and other privileged information. When a digital file is deleted from a computer, the information remains on the drive, as do deleted e-mail messages and records of all online activity.  While reformatting or overwriting may be enough to prevent sensitive data from being recovered by some, using the right techniques and equipment can recover this information.

What can you do to protect yourself or your business?

Using a Data-Wiping Program

Before donating or recycling any computer, you need to completely wipe or remove the hard drives. Doing this helps ensure the data on the hard drives will be erased and untraceable by data thieves. A data-wiping program is a primary method used to remove sensitive information while still keeping the hard drive usable. However, no matter how thorough a data-wiping program is, the only way to be sure a hard drive's data is unrecoverable is to destroy it.

Physically Destroying Your Hard Drive

There are numerous ways to physically destroy the magnetic disk (also called a platter) inside a computer, but the following method is likely the simplest. First, you will need to locate the hard drive inside the computer. If you are having trouble finding it, check the manufacturer’s website. Look up the manual or user’s guide for your model number, which will include a diagram. Next, remove as many screws as you can access on the computer and open the hard drive casing. This may require loosening additional screws depending on the make and model of your hard drive. With your hard drive removed from the computer and your eye protection on, you’ll want to strike the hard drive on various sides until it starts to open. When open, extract the round silver platter disk from inside. Dent and scratch this platter thoroughly with a hammer. When sufficiently battered, take the components to your local electronics recycling center.

Using a Shredding Service

While there may be a certain appeal to taking a hammer to an old computer (particularly if it didn’t perform to your satisfaction), you may prefer a less physical approach. Although you can purchase industrial-strength shredders for personal use, many individuals and businesses are not able to allocate funds for this need. Sierra Shred provides secure hard drive destruction for Houston’s individuals and businesses. Hard-drive shredders literally rip drives to into randomly-sized strips.  The shredding process is very similar to paper shredding, but the equipment used for hard-drive destruction is more forceful and capable of destroying multiple types and sizes of drives.  These industrial shredders are also capable of destroying cell phones, PDAs, electronic organizers, and other data storage devices.  The information contained within the hard drive platter remains, but since the drives are shredded, it is very difficult to retrieve. Hard disk drives and other electronic devices are reduced to “e-scrap,” most of which can be recycled.

Regardless of the option you choose, be sure to take suitable steps to protect the sensitive electronic information on old devices. It’s simply not worth the risk of letting the information fall into criminal hands. You can then enjoy your new device with peace of mind, and you don’t have more electronic clutter stacking up in your closets!