How to safely wipe out an old computer

computer wipe


The idea of losing all personal data on a computer, phone or tablet may send a person into a panic. How many times has a drive failed or a computer crashed and a person has worried that all of their essential files were lost forever? But there are times when it could be essential to clear data from a hard drive. That includes before selling the device, discarding it or giving it away.

NordVPN¨ says someone can access sensitive information many think is gone forever after deletion, but actually could still be stored in the hard drive. Short of removing the hard drive, which would necessitate a new owner putting in a new hard drive, devices will have to be wiped clean to ensure sensitive information is not vulnerable. Devices can be wiped completely when they are changing hands. Consumer Reports says this is done by performing a “factory reset.” This technically wipes the drive clean of personal data.

Before initiating a factory reset, it’s important to back up any important data onto the cloud or an external hard drive. Depending on the operating system, hard drive type and device, the instructions for wiping a hard drive will vary. It’s best to do a search online or ask a technology expert about the most expeditious way to restore factory settings. Even still, there are some issues when wiping a drive that may prove problematic.

If a person recently purchased a computer, it likely has a solid-state drive. SSDs are faster and more stable than older, mechanical hard drives and use flash memory. That means securely deleting files is very hard. This is why Wirecutter suggests encrypting the drive, which uses a mathematical process to mix up the data using a key that only the device owner has. Without the key, files on the drive will look like gibberish if someone successfully recovers them. Encrypting an SSD computer is recommended even if one has no intention of selling or trading it later. Chromebooks usually use SSD but Google enables encryption by default. Chromebook users can skip this step when resetting. Again, encryption varies based on the OS, so it’s best to study the right way to do so.

Files do not automatically erase just because they are thrown in the trash. Before selling or donating a device, a hard drive wipe or encryption is recommended.