The Right Way and the Easy Way to Dispose of a Computer
Dr. Frederick Scholl, cybersecurity program director, Quinnipiac University
Many people may be looking at year end deals on a new PC or laptop. One question comes up: how to dispose of the old one? Or you may have an old computer accumulating dust in the closet and be wondering how to get rid of it. My heavy desktop PC was cluttering up my crowded home office and I was trying to figure out how to get rid of it. Being a security practitioner, I was faced with how to securely wipe the drive.
I think most people know that when you delete a file on your computer it is not gone. In fact, the first place it goes on Windows systems is the Recycle Bin. Once there, it can sit for 30 days or so and then be deleted. But files aren’t really gone until they are overwritten with other data. Products like CC Cleaner (www.ccleaner.com) will overwrite files on demand, if you really want to delete the file. They have a free version that does just this. But, if you’re like me you haven’t used this regularly and you may have confidential information remaining on your PC. How can you dispose of your computer without being a target for digital dumpster divers? In my town of Clinton, I can dispose of used electronics on Fridays and Saturdays. That will recycle the hardware, but what about the data? I want the data to be gone, not recycled.
I found recently that there are two ways to do this: the hard, do it yourself way, and the easy way. Being a technical person, I first tried the hard way. The challenge with securely deleting ALL information is that Windows can’t overwrite itself. You need another operating system to do the work. That operating system must run off a CD drive or USB drive attached to the PC. Many PC’s these days don’t have built in CD drives. Mine did not, but I did have a portable CD drive that worked. So first I tried using my old copy of White Canyon erasure software (www.whitecanyon.com) on my portable CD Drive. I have used White Canyon before and know it to be an industrial strength erasure tool. Unfortunately, my paid copy was not compatible with my Windows 10 PC. That was disappointing to say the least. Next, I tried booting from my PC’s USB port. I had installed DBAN on the USB memory key (www.dban.org, Darik’s Boot and Nuke). DBAN is the geek’s choice for free erasure software. The challenge is that modern PC’s do not permit the USB port to be used to boot the PC. This would make it accessible to any hacker sitting in front of the machine. So, you must edit the PC’s BIOS to permit USB start up. I did this but found that I was still unable to start up from the USB memory. After all this work I was about to give up and insecurely send the machine to the dumpster; until I discovered the easy way.
A call to my local computer store and I found out they provide secure wipe service for free! Enterprise Computer, LLC in Clinton, CT (www.enterprisecomputer.com). I’m sure your local computer store will do the same. So, after all this work, I managed to securely dispose of my PC in 10 minutes. Kudos to Enterprise. It’s a great service from them and helps drive traffic to their store. Now my desk is a little cleaner… with room for more tech gadgets!
Quinnipiac University's MS in Cybersecurity program trains cybersecurity professionals and those just starting out in the industry with the skills necessary to move your career forward.