Use DBAN or your personal information is out there

This is an old but still valid article from the Register-News. Enjoy.

Are you giving away your information?

Probably. Pam sent an email question that definitely needs to be covered: “…how does one go about purging all the information from an old computer so that there is no way anyone can glean information from them before they are recycled? I have heard that there are still ways to get information from them even when you think you have completely purged them?”

There are two parts to that question, and I’ll tackle the last part first. Yes, it is very easy to retrieve deleted items from a PC, especially Windows. The simplest way to retrieve these files is if you just delete it. From there, it can just be restored from the Recycle Bin.

However, even if you delete a file from the Recycle Bin, it can still be found. While Windows will let you think that the file is gone forever, that is not the case. When Windows deletes a file, it actually just deletes the ‘address’ of that file so that the space can be overwritten. This is fine as long as your computer is not stolen and you overwrite that space. Unfortunately, the space may not be overwritten for a long time, or ever. This means that the information is still available on your hard drive.

A large amount of software is available that serves the sole purpose of finding deleted files on hard drives. Some of this software is quite costly, but you can find free programs that perform the same job – finding information that you don’t want found. This software comes in very handy in police investigations of criminals, but can be dangerous if your PC is donated, trashed, or stolen.

So now we have a tool/machine that you use, that has personal information such as passwords, photos, emails, and more. That personal information can be retrieved by most anyone, and even for free. How do we solve this problem? Well, that would be the answer to Pam’s first question.

Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN.org) is the answer to this issue. I have personally used DBAN many times to clear both personal and business PCs. From the DBAN website: “DBAN prevents or thoroughly hinders all known techniques of hard disk forensic analysis.” DBAN can be downloaded free, burnt to a CD and used with simple instructions.

DBAN accomplishes its ‘data wiping’ by writing across your entire hard drive with ones and zeros several times. I am no data forensics expert (the people paid big bucks to retrieve erased information), but DBAN uses Department of Defense quality data destruction. If the DoD standards are met by this software, it probably can handle deleting your emails to grandma and bank passwords.

My warning: DBAN WILL COMPLETELY ERASE YOUR HARD DRIVE. NOTHING WILL BE LEFT.

This means no operating system such as Windows, OSX, or whatever you may use will be left should you be donating or selling the old PC. People probably won’t want a PC with no operating system, but your information should be gone. I suggest including a CD with Linux for them to install if you don’t feel like reloading an operating system on the PC.

Linux is free and quite easy to use in today’s distributions. My personal preference is Kubuntu (Kubuntu.org), but there are many to choose from and they are all free. I am beginning to collect old PCs to give to disadvantaged youth as well. Not everything can be used, and I will cover recycling next week. If you have questions, please drop me an email.

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