How many crime novels have you read where the police catch the bad guy because they found some trace of evidence on his computer? Most of the book was probably a bit over-the-top, but that computer stuff is real.
Pressing delete is like shoving your dirty socks under the bed. Sure, you don’t have to look at them anymore but that doesn’t mean they’re suddenly clean. When a file is deleted, it’s simply removed from the computer’s “Master File Table” which is like a table of contents. You can’t see or access it anymore, but the content is still buried in your computer’s hard drive.
There are basically three types of data. Active data is contained in the files you can see on your computer, either on your desktop or in easily accessible folders. Archival data is stored on an external drive or backed-up to the cloud. Latent data is the information you can’t actually see but is nonetheless still stored on your computer. It includes temporary files, like the ones created when you print a document, and everything that magically “disappears” when you empty the recycle bin.
None of this is really a problem until the day comes when you need to retire your hardware. If you plan on recycling or reselling your computer, you don’t want complete strangers going through your data or pulling out valuable information like passwords and bank account numbers. Business computers often contain proprietary software or sensitive data, so companies have an added duty to dispose of their defunct hardware responsibly. Unfortunately, returning a computer to “factory settings” simply overwrites the existing data, which isn’t the same as deleting it.
How to Permanently Erase Electronic Data
There are three ways to get rid of data when you’re selling, recycling or returning a piece of computer hardware.
The first is to erase the hard drive by overwriting. This involves using a special program that turns all the existing data into illegible garbage. Because new data is being written on top of the old information, it is still technically possible for a hacker to reconstruct the original files but doing so would require a great deal of skill and patience. That’s what’s called “computer forensics” in all those crime novels.
Because computers store data magnetically, the second way to erase data is to simply demagnetize it. This is also called “degaussing” and uses a really powerful magnet to make all those little 1s and 0s just 1s or just 0s. The result is screeds of complete nonsense.
Finally, there’s total destruction. Not an option if you’re planning to resell your equipment, but the solution of choice for businesses storing extensive client data or other sensitive materials. A metal shredder reduces the hardware to a pile of twisted junk, and there’s guaranteed to be no way anyone is ever going to be able to put it back together again.
Which brings us to asset recovery services. Depending on the level of security and risk associated with disposal, asset recovery services will overwrite, demagnetize or destroy your data. If you’re looking to resell or recycle, asset recovery means sanitizing your hard drive to erase all trace of data before the hardware leaves your possession. For really sensitive data, this service will pulverize all of your hardware components and certify that they are permanently destroyed.
Using an asset recovery service is the only sure way of keeping your data secure when replacing any part of your system’s infrastructure. Latent data is gone forever, and you and your clients are fully protected from unauthorized use or access.
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