‘Tis the season for buying new gadgets. ‘Tis also the season to discard, recycle or hand down the one you’ve just replaced. There’s a way to do it right, but it takes willpower and a bit of time. Just keep telling yourself that the minutes you spend now could save you hundreds of hours battling identity theft later.
Every year, stories of identity theft trace the stolen data to discarded or recycled electronics. Sometimes, the data can end up half way around the globe and still compromise U.S. residents.
Craig Ramsay is ID Watchdog’s Chief Information Officer and he has serious advice on how to erase your outdated device with confidence.
The right method depends on several factors, including the sensitivity of stored data and where the device is going. If your computer is headed for a landfill, for example, try this:
“The best method for an average user is to use a service that will perform multiple low-level formats to overwrite the entire drive,” he says. “Even better, some services will physically shred the hard drive.”
If you use a drop off service like Best Buy® for that device, you will be asked about your hard drive. Best Buy recommends Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN), a do-it yourself, downloadable program that can wipe the drive. If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, you can hire a Geek Squad® Agent to help you for a fee.
One of the most commonly recycled items this holiday season will be smartphones. They may contain extremely sensitive photos, credit card details and more. As one reader discovered, a simple reset can leave lots behind.
She is far from alone. In 2014, security researchers at Avast Software purchased 20 used phones on eBayTM and Amazon. Fifty percent of the devices were still packed with data. Those ‘wiped’ devices contained over 40,000 photos, emails, and notes. A second study done on pawn shop purchases turned up similar results.
It’s no wonder that Ramsay advises doing a lot more before you recycle that phone.
“Remove the SIM card. This card is specific to you and only you so if you are selling your phone, the buyer has no need for this card,” he explains. “While most information is saved on the phone, some data like your phone number and even your contacts could be stored on the SIM card.”
Ramsay also recommends removing the micro SD card if your phone has one. Then you can reset the phone to erase all content and settings. For iPhones, it’s a command under Settings/General.
For Android phones, Ramsay recommended you first encrypt the phone, then do a factory reset.
“This way, if any data remains, it cannot be retrieved without the encryption key, which only you would know.”
If you’ve found an excellent way to recycle and still be data smart, share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.