updated 3/14/2011 2:14:10 PM ET 2011-03-14T18:14:10

Eventually, everyone replaces computer equipment. No matter how the equipment is disposed of – giving or selling it to another user, recycling parts, or sending it to the electronic junk yard – any device that holds data (hard drives, USB flash drives, CDs, disks) needs to be given special consideration.

There is a common misconception that by deleting files or reformatting a drive, the data is gone.  Wrong. Data never truly goes away . Even though there are wipe tools available to make information difficult to recover, experts in data recovery and experienced hackers know the tricks to find things such as Social Security, bank account, and credit card numbers, health and job details, and incriminating e-mail – anything that was once written and stored on the drive.

So what is the best way to dispose of unwanted computer equipment in a safe and secure manner?

  • Always remove the hard drive from any computer that is being sold or donated to someone else.
  • Never toss a hard drive or other storage device into the trash or recycling without erasing the files .
  • PC World recommends encrypting files first, and then use an erasing tool to delete the storage device. The files might still be retrievable, but encryption ensures they will be unreadable.

The absolute safest way to dispose of an old storage device is to physically destroy it – smash it with a hammer, melt down the drive platters, submerge it in water, or drill holes through the discs so they no longer spin.


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