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Clearing a computer of personal data
Old 04-11-2008, 07:08 PM   #1
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Clearing a computer of personal data

My computer is getting about due for replacement.

My concern is I have heard that a lot of stuff that is on your computer that you thought was gone can be recovered.

I read an article where people had their hard drives recovered by the wrong person and they had all of their financial information!

I do all of my banking online and investing from the same computer so it probably has a lot of my personal info on it. As well as a lot of photos from family and friends.

I'm not very computer savvy and wanted to know if anyone on here knew if there is a good program that can be used to get all of your personal data off a computer before giving it away or throwing it away?



Thanks

Jim
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Old 04-11-2008, 07:28 PM   #2
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One possible solution
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Old 04-11-2008, 07:38 PM   #3
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It is very easy to remove the hard drive from a computer and then just keep it (it's not very big). If you are buying the replacement computer from a store take the old one in with you and ask them how to take out the hard drive.

I don't know if data still exists in a computer absent the hard drive (on the processor or whatever), I just know that I have the hard drives from two previous computers. You can also get a little connector to read from them, by the way, which was very helpful to me (no need to transfer data from the old computer).
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Old 04-11-2008, 08:45 PM   #4
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Take the disk out and hit it with a big hammer until its bent works pretty well. Really big powerful magnet on the drive overnight also works.

Otherwise...if you have a recovery disk/cd or windows disk that came with the computer, boot up on that, format the c: and if you have one d: drive at least 3-4 times, then remove the partition. Then do a basic windows reinstall.

You could also employ a free software program to do the deed. Many disk drive companies like seagate and western digital also offer a free download of a disk manager boot disk that can do low level format/test on a disk drive and that'd do a pretty good number on it...

Basically you want to write over your data at least a couple of times to prevent amateurs from getting your stuff. About 8 times with random data to prevent someone with forensic abilities from recovering it. Just deleting or copying stuff probably wont do the trick. Most OS's put stuff in some amazingly obscure places.

I usually go with the hammer route. If you want to give the computer to someone else, they can probably buy a new larger, faster hard drive than the one thats in it for $30.
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Old 04-12-2008, 06:24 AM   #5
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Take out the hard drive and beat on it with a hammer or if you have some railway tracks nearby put it on the tracks when a train is coming .
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Old 04-12-2008, 09:23 AM   #6
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We used to have a huge degauser (sp?) that we used. Now there is a DoD approved peice of software (bcwipe maybe?) that blanks the disk and writes either 1s or 0s over and over for 8 or so times.

Search for NSA disk wipe or something similar?

Or, use a 10 lb sledge... wear safety glasses.
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Old 04-12-2008, 09:31 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by summer2007 View Post
My computer is getting about due for replacement.

My concern is I have heard that a lot of stuff that is on your computer that you thought was gone can be recovered.

I read an article where people had their hard drives recovered by the wrong person and they had all of their financial information!

I do all of my banking online and investing from the same computer so it probably has a lot of my personal info on it. As well as a lot of photos from family and friends.

I'm not very computer savvy and wanted to know if anyone on here knew if there is a good program that can be used to get all of your personal data off a computer before giving it away or throwing it away?
I have the vague recollection of reading a DoD document many years ago that described the official military way of disposing of a hard drive. There were three approved methods at the time (if I remember correctly):

1) Sand all the iron oxide off the platters

2) Toss platters in a vat of acid

3) Melt platters

None of these seemed very handy. I have tired various techniques myself. For example, pounding the case with a hammer. This didn't work too well. I was afraid that I would break the hammer. Currently, I remove the hard drives from an old computer and try to mess up the drive somehow:

1) twist the platters with a pair of pliers (if I can get to the platters)

2) destroy a chip on the electronics

3) remove all the pins from the connectors

If the hard drive is rendered unusable, I doubt anybody if going to spend big bux to repair the drive on the off chance there's (say) some hot pornography on the drive.

Another possibility is to find a program that rewrites all the tracks on the drive a whole bunch of times (say 20 or 30 times). This would probably render the drive unrecoverable. I've never used this technique myself, but there are such programs. Sorry, I can't give a specific recommendation.
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Old 04-12-2008, 10:00 AM   #8
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I used to do forensic data recovery for a living.

There are a number of free software downloads that will overwrite the drive numerous times, the name of one escapes me at the moment.

At one time NSA's specs were to grind up the platters and then incinerate them, but those guys are paranoid.

Beating it with a hammer should suffice for normal people. Just make sure the platters are bent/damaged. To recover anything after that is a six-figure project.
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Old 04-12-2008, 10:26 AM   #9
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Bathtub + Acid
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Old 04-12-2008, 10:27 AM   #10
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Bathtub + Acid
Sounds like some of the parties I used to attend...
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Old 04-12-2008, 10:30 AM   #11
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Sounds like some of the parties I used to attend...
Wait this isn't the things to bring to a party thread?

Crap my bad
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Old 04-12-2008, 11:06 AM   #12
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I found this link while looking around for an 'over-writing' software title that I had read about some time back.....still haven't remembered what the name of it was though. This website lists several different software options for rendering your hard-drive data useless. Some are freeware and some are pay-to-play.

I usually just hang on to my old drives. Sometimes I've installed them in a new computer as a secondary drive, which made all of my old files available if I wanted or needed them. If I wanted to destroy the data on a hard-drive, I'd probably just go out back with the drive and whack it in half with my cutting torch......or play Bam-Bam with my trusty old '16-pounder' sledgehammer!
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Old 04-12-2008, 11:48 AM   #13
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I found this link while looking around for an 'over-writing' software title that I had read about some time back.....still haven't remembered what the name of it was though. This website lists several different software options for rendering your hard-drive data useless. Some are freeware and some are pay-to-play.

I usually just hang on to my old drives. Sometimes I've installed them in a new computer as a secondary drive, which made all of my old files available if I wanted or needed them. If I wanted to destroy the data on a hard-drive, I'd probably just go out back with the drive and whack it in half with my cutting torch......or play Bam-Bam with my trusty old '16-pounder' sledgehammer!
Gee!!! You guys are SERIOUS!

I am a total amateur at these things compared with everyone else on this thread. Usually I just run the recover/restore disk, restoring the original software configurations. Then I give the computer to my daughter, who can generally get about 5 more years use out of it. She even converted my ME system to Linux, since she found it humiliating to own anything running ME! I figure that by the time she's done with a computer, it's done, and this way the problem of what to do with the hard drive becomes her problem, rather than mine. She's much more techy than I am anyway, since her career has been in IT/troubleshooting.
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Old 04-12-2008, 12:00 PM   #14
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This may work, Free and Pay version, if you or someone else is going to reuse the drive Active@ Kill Disk Hard Drive Eraser. Low Level Format.. Otherwise, removal from the computer, and a big hammer seems to be the method of choice.
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Old 04-12-2008, 12:07 PM   #15
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It's important to remember that deleting, even in some cases "formatting" a drive doesn't get rid of the data, it just makes the disk forget what it knows. Specifically, every sector needs to be written with 1's and 0's otherwise cool tools like the one I use at work - Encase - will find it. I won't bore you with talk about "known file headers" and things like that.

BCWipe is an excellent tool, DOD spec is a seven time overwrite. But the thing is, it wipes your free space, not actual files, so if you have files on the disk in a directory you've forgotten about and haven't deleted it, BC Wipe isn't going to help you.

Using a hammer is fun, I've done it myself with crappy 40 gig hard drives that are of no use to me. But if you want to re-use a hard drive I suggest two products:

Boot and Nuke:
http://dban.sourceforge.net/

Secure Erase:
http://cmrr.ucsd.edu/people/Hughes/SecureErase.shtml

NSA and NIST rates Secure Erase very highly. Thing is, you need to boot from an external disk you create with the utility, it's not the simplest thing. It then tells your MOBO's ATA controller to write over every HD block - even the bad ones!

I wouldn't bother unless you are giving your old computer to your brother in law. Get some aggression out with a hammer.

As far as the volatile memory in your computer (RAM & cache etc.) while there have been some proof of concepts where labs have super cooled the chips and powered off the machine, swapped them into a new machine and recovered partial data...essentially if you leave the box at room temperature with no power for 24 hours, you are good to go.
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Old 04-12-2008, 12:21 PM   #16
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So if there are any guys hanging around in your yard peeking into your windows while holding vacuum seal cans of liquid nitrogen...be very, very careful...
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Old 04-12-2008, 12:22 PM   #17
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When I was working for one of the alphabet agencies I asked the IT guy what he used. Old PC's usually went off to some giant government surplus place where other agencies could pick and choose and the remainder got sold to the general public. He used a program called Eraser that overwrites data multiple times (you can adjust the number of overwrites) with gibberish. Then he would format the disk and reinstall windows. The classified stuff got sent to Virginia for "special handling".

Eraser - Free secure data erase tool to wipe files on your hard drive

Quote:
The patterns used for overwriting are based on Peter Gutmann's paper "Secure Deletion of Data from Magnetic and Solid-State Memory" and they are selected to effectively remove magnetic remnants from the hard drive.

Other methods include the one defined in the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual of the US Department of Defence and overwriting with pseudorandom data. You can also define your own overwriting methods.
I like Eraser because I can right click on any file and "erase" is an option right along with "delete". There is also an option for "secure move" which copies a file to a different drive/directory and then erases the original.

I use it regularly on anything financial/personal, and whenever I get rid of a drive that is the first step in decommissioning. You can erase all files and even erase empty space in case there is something residing out there that you previously deleted. Second step is to reformat the disc. And the third step is to give the kids a hammer and set them on "destroy".
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Old 04-12-2008, 12:41 PM   #18
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Hey, a rare Leonidas sighting!

One last thought...many anti virus suites like norton and mcafee include a disk/data destroyer tool.
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Old 04-12-2008, 01:18 PM   #19
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Gee!!! You guys are SERIOUS!
Have to be. Wouldn't want anyone to stumble across my bondage collection....
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Old 04-12-2008, 04:08 PM   #20
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Have to be. Wouldn't want anyone to stumble across my bondage collection....
But if you'll burn a DVD, I'll keep it "archival" purposes...
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