Monday, August 23, 2010

e-trash: Trashing computer/Trashing TV. Not the same thing.

Getting ready to upgrade that computer? Considered what you were going to do with the old one?

No, I'm not going to recommend a worthy charity - though I won't discourage donating a fairly recent computer. I am going to recommend that before you donate it, or throw it in the dumpster if it's that bad off, you perform a secure wipe of the drive. Simply deleting the files won't protect them. There are plenty of utilities to recover deleted data, and often we don't even think about what is on our hard drives. Financial records, journals or diaries, family photos, personal correspondence, business records or ideas and more things that we might not want a stranger seeing are all on our computers. Yet so often we just give them to charity or toss them in the dumpster without a second thought.

Unfortunately, modern PC makers don't make it as easy as it could be to securely delete data. Well, maybe fortunately. When you perform a secure erase you won't recover the data unless God reaches down and recovers it for you. If you have a Mac, the ability is built into the Finder in the "Secure Empty Trash" under the Finder menu and in the "Disk Utility" program in Applications/Utilities. You can't erase the drive you're booted from, so you have to put a little thought and work into erasing a drive on the Mac, too.

If you have a Mac, boot from the OS X install disk or the Restore disk that came with your computer. Select Disk Utility from the appropriate menu - which one varies by OS version - select the erase tab, and the secure option - then choose just how secure. Writing over the entire drive with zeroes will decent protection from the casual new owner who is a little curious about what you may have had on your computer. But for real security select the 7 pass overwrite. Then go about your life for a while. It will take 7 times as long for a 7 pass overwrite as it would for a single pass - and a single pass can take hours (or days) on a drive that's a few hundred gigabytes. If you're computer is a laptop, make sure you're plugged into the wall for this operation.

If you have a PC there are a few options, free, commercial and shareware. If you're getting ready to retire your PC, here are a few of the freebies (as good a most for pay) for you to try:

Eraser from Heidi Computers. Received 4 out of 5 stars from CNET editors and 3.5 stars from users. Biggest complaint was lockups and crashes.

DBAN aka Darik's Boot and Nuke. Download the disk image. Burn it to a CD or DVD, boot the computer and erase the HD. Received 4.5 stars on CNET from both the editors and users.

Freeraser from Codyssey. It works on individual files, so if you know what files or folders you want to securely delete and don't want to take the time required to wipe then entire drive, this is a good option. Has only 2 user reviews on CNET, both 5 stars. Has a decent staff review, but no ratings, on PCWorld.com. But no complaints with over 4,000 downloads says the software works as described.