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Note: Information contained in archived ITSS newsletter articles was current at the time of publication, but may not reflect the present state of technology or ITSS.

March 2003

Disk and Hard Drive Data Cleaning - Is Your Information Secure?

With hard drive technology growing in size and costs coming down, installing a new larger hard drive is a real economical upgrade. But what happens to that old hard drive?

What happens to an old computer when you sell it, give it to someone else, or dispose of it?

Over the course of a two year study a pair of MIT students found that over half of the hard drives they collected had recoverable data on them.

To summarize, of the 129 functional drives they collected, 69 had recoverable files. Much of the data was personal information such as medical records, personal documents, and credit card numbers. One even supposedly contained a years worth of ATM transactions. There are other stories of state government agencies that sold computers which still contained data about employees and customers. See the 'Sanitized' Hard Drives Still Full of Information article for the full story.

Many people assume that formatting their hard drive makes it secure or empty. This is an inaccurate assumption. A file is really never deleted until it is overwritten, and this is a very key principle in computer forensics. When a hard drive is formatted or a file deleted only the index or table of contents is modified. The actual file is still likely on unused space on the hard drive.

So how do you keep yourself protected? There are utilities available for secure file erasure for most operating systems that should do an adequate job. But to be positive that your personal and University information remains safe it is best to either physically destroy the hard drive or remove the drive from the computer and have it professionally erased.

ITSS can do either of these services and would provide certified documentation that your drive was destroyed or erased. The cost is very minimal and will assure that private information stays private.

In today's world of technology, computer and data security is extremely important. To help keep your data secure, here are some general guidelines all users should practice:

  • keep your anti-virus software up to date
  • update your Operating System with appropriate patches
  • secure your computer and accounts with good passwords
  • know where your hard drive goes when it leaves your possession

For details on how ITSS can help erase or dispose of a hard drive for you, call ITSS Maintenance (ext. 7973) or submit an online Computer Maintenance Problem Report form.

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Last modified on 03/06/03
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