Keep your records safe by knowing how to dispose of your devices properly

These days, it’s virtually impossible to keep up with the rate of new technology but many of us just simply cannot resist the latest must-have gadget. However, being blinded by the shiny reflective screen of a brand new smartphone or laptop can cause you to lose sight of the importance of data security. It’s time to take off your rose-tinted specs and get clued up or risk losing customer confidence and destroying your vulnerable business. 

As you read about retina screens, modular displays and HD software while you fall head over heels for the newest technological offering, it is easy to become reified and abandon boring safety measures. However, while getting your hands on the hot topic product catapults its way to the top of your priority list, it’s also pretty vital that you dispose of your unwanted devices securely. Failing to do so leaves your important information and confidential records open to suspicious third parties and dreaded hackers.

You couldn’t be blamed for believing that the ‘Delete’ button means whatever you’re erasing would be totally wiped from your device but you would only be half correct. While the delete function removes pointers to information on the device, the content is actually still sitting in a holding area where it could potentially be recovered and wind up in the wrong hands. Here’s how to do it properly, as recommended by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO):

  1. Go for it hammer and tongs – If you have no plans to recycle or sell your device then smashing it to smithereens with a hammer or drilling holes through it can be a safe and effective way of ensuring your data is unreachable. Magnetic devices such as hard drives and floppy disks can be destroyed with a degaussing machine that involves exposing them to an extremely powerful magnet. These machines can be easily purchased or rented online. When it comes to CDs and DVDs, feed them through a purpose-built shredder that will shred them into fragments no bigger than 0.2mm.

Maybe not so much the tongs… Trying to cremate your device(s) by burning it or putting it in the microwave (yes that has been trialled and error-ed) is extremely dangerous. Please do not try this at home!

  1. Restore to factory settings – Reverting your devices back to its factory setting is a quick, easy and reliable way of feeling sufficiently secure in the knowledge your data has vanished off it. This method works for devices with or without removable storage media and will return your device back to the way it was before you bought it – a blank canvas. Not all devices offer a secure data wiping function during factory reset so double check with your manufacturer just to be sure.
  1. Leave it to the professionals – If you don’t feel like you have enough knowledge or the right resources to dispose of your device properly, there is always somebody who will. There are countless organisations available today that are expert in the field of data disposal for both businesses and individuals. The ICO advise performing a preliminary data wiping process before sending the device to a specialist to be 100% certain that your records are being securely disposed of.
  1. Format it – The process of formatting involves preparing a storage device, such as a hard drive, for use and often comes hand-in-hand with overwriting which we will cover next. When you format a device, all bookkeeping information it uses to organise data will be erased. However the data on the device will be retained until it is overwritten so it’s important to use these processes in conjunction to allow true peace of mind.
  1. Overwrite it – There are plenty of software packages available today that enable somebody to retain the data from a formatted device but overwriting can eliminate this risk. The process of overwriting replaces sensitive data with random data so it can never be retrieved but experts recommend doing this process at least three times to ensure full security. There is an extensive range of software programmes and hardware devices that can do this for you but it’s important to investigate all of your options first to ascertain the right one for you.
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