Dumping your old computer? Get a hammer

Dumping your old computer? Get a hammer

If you’ve ever wondered how to be sure some crook can’t steal the information stored on your personal computer when you get rid of it, federal officials recommend “pounding with a hammer.”

The idea is to “disfigure, bend, mangle, or otherwise mutilate the hard drive so that it cannot be reinserted into a functioning computer,” according to the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology in its “Guidelines for Media Sanitization.”
The advice might seem peculiar in this tech-savvy age. But it reflects a fundamental problem people face when discarding their computers and smartphones. Other methods commonly used to eliminate stored bank records, Social Security numbers, and other confidential data can’t always be counted on to work, experts warn.
“Ultimately it does mean the consumer has to do their due diligence,” when disposing of such devices, said Mark Oldfield, communications director for California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, which promotes the reuse of electronic and other items.
Removing sensitive files from computing devices -- a process called “clearing” -- is crucial. If done improperly, criminals can still steal information such as the owner’s identity and financial records. Two MIT graduate students several years ago reported finding scores of credit card numbers, medical records, email and other personal records in hard drives bought through eBay and other sources.

Because simply hitting your computer’s delete button won’t eliminate what’s stored on its drive, one popular alternative is to use special software that wipes the information clean by writing over it with random data. Microsoft recommends Active@KillDisk or Softpedia DP Wiper software, which can be freely downloaded

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