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I'm feeling pretty chuffed with myself on the technology front today. I have:
  • Finally got my DVD-video and Sky-box to talk to one another. It turned out that I'd got it all set up right in the first place, but just needed to choose the A1 channel on the DVD-video machine instead of letting it sit on channel 1.
  • Convinced my BT Home Hub to supply full wireless coverage to my entire house, rather than just a 2m pool immediately around it. Those people who said that the key to doing this was changing the channel it was broadcasting on (dakegra first, I think, confirmed by kernowgirl's husband) were really right. Setting it to channel 6 completely transformed it from basically not really working at all to working absolutely perfectly everywhere I could want it to. Amazing.
However, I still have a technological question:

Having recently bought my laptop from Dell, I want to take advantage of their partnership with ReCOM to recycle my old desktop PC to charity. I've checked that it meets their requirements, and established what I need to do to get it collected, but obviously it's crucial to ensure that it is data-safe before it goes out of my house. So far I have:
  • Uninstalled pretty much every piece of software I ever installed on it, with the exception of harmless ones like Adobe Acrobat
  • Told both IE and Firefox to clear all my personal data (passwords, browser history, favourites etc.)
  • Manually deleted all internet cache files, cookies etc. just to be sure
  • Wiped all my old documents, pictures and music (after copying them to my new machine, natch) and all temp files
  • Emptied the Recycle bin
  • Defragmented the hard drive
For the record, I never used anything other than web-based email accounts from it, so there shouldn't be old emails stored anywhere on it.

Is there anything else I should be doing before I let someone else have it? Or is rendering what was my primary personal and work computer for a total of six years truly data-safe so difficult to do properly that I'd be better off smashing the hard-drive with a hammer and taking it to the tip?

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
mr_tom
Jul. 29th, 2007 06:33 pm (UTC)
Or is rendering what was my primary personal and work computer for a total of six years truly data-safe so difficult to do properly that I'd be better off smashing the hard-drive with a hammer and taking it to the tip?

Yes. If someone really wants the data off that disk, they'll get it. Question is: how likely is it that someone wants it, and how damaging would it be to you if they did?
diffrentcolours
Jul. 29th, 2007 06:36 pm (UTC)
The simplest thing might be to download Darik's Boot & Nuke, boot from the DBAN CD and leave it for a few hours. It's pretty damn irrecoverable and simple to use.
rich_r
Jul. 29th, 2007 07:01 pm (UTC)
The only way to properly guarantee there's nothing of yours on that old PC would be to overwrite every byte on the hard disk several times with random junk - then reinstall Windows on it.

Just deleting what you believe to be all the data you put on it achieves very little -there will be loads of hidden files and other information tucked away in difficult to access places. Deleted data is recoverable by examining the disk directly - all deleting a file does is remove it's entry from the list of files in a directory, it doesn't remove the data from the disk.
diffrentcolours
Jul. 29th, 2007 07:37 pm (UTC)
overwrite every byte on the hard disk several times with random junk - then reinstall Windows on it.

Isn't that tautology?
strange_complex
Jul. 29th, 2007 08:51 pm (UTC)
*chuckle*

I'm beginning to feel rather less charitable, though, having read the comments here. Maybe a hammer and the tip is the best route after all...
diffrentcolours
Jul. 29th, 2007 08:56 pm (UTC)
The DBAN utility I recommended is simple to use, and good enough that the cost to recover any information from the disk is (a) far more (in terms of resources such as clean rooms and magnetoscopes) than your common or garden thief would use, and (b) far more (in terms of cash) than they could reasonably hope to gain from the information on the disk.

Sure, if you had secrets on there you wanted to keep from MI6 (and a really determined MI6 at that), I'd recommend physical destruction of drive platters, but for pretty much everything else, DBAN suffices.
rich_r
Jul. 30th, 2007 07:44 am (UTC)
Something along those lines would do it nicely. The important thing is that you need to install a fresh copy of the operating system to be certain that there's nothing of yours easily accessible. Not a big job - or just leave it with a blank hard drive, and the next person can put whatever operating system they want on it.
strange_complex
Jul. 30th, 2007 08:54 am (UTC)
I've never reinstalled an operating system before, though! It sounds scary...
a_d_medievalist
Jul. 29th, 2007 07:30 pm (UTC)
unless you have to donate with some software, I'd reformat the HD, if nothing else. Starting up again will require a boot disk of some type, I think, but there's almost always going to be info that stays.
nalsa
Jul. 29th, 2007 09:56 pm (UTC)
Basically, if you're concerned about anything at the very least a complete wipe-and-reinstall will make it more difficult for your average kid to pull any data. I'd still think about DBAN - which is probably the easiest way of doing it - though.
qatsi
Jul. 29th, 2007 10:02 pm (UTC)
I'd second what others have already said about DBAN. Unless someone is really determined to get your data, that should do it.
(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
Jul. 30th, 2007 08:55 am (UTC)
Thing is, I think the scheme requires that you basically hand over a computer that is ready to plug and go. They insist that you include a mouse and keyboard, for instance, so I don't think they're going to look kindly on an absent hard-drive.
(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
Jul. 30th, 2007 09:15 am (UTC)
I'm afraid there's absolutely no way I'm buying anything new just to recycle it. I'm basically looking for the easy option, really - though a smidgeon of feeling smug about donating to charity wouldn't go amiss. But while a hammer and the tip remain an option, recycling possibilities have got to be pretty simple to compete.

Currently, the ReCOM scheme appeals because they will come to my house and take the computer away - whereas I don't have a car, so getting to the tip would mean I had to rely on a friend / my parents. But the balance would quickly shift tip-wise if I had to do much more than I already have in order to recycle safely.
(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
Jul. 30th, 2007 09:27 am (UTC)
Good point about Freecycle - I experimented with that in getting rid of some old stereo speakers a couple of months ago, and it worked very smoothly. I think my current plan is to see how capable I am of running one of the data-destroyers, as you say, but if it is beyond my abilities, Freecycling without the hard-drive would be a nice alternative.
(Deleted comment)
strange_complex
Jul. 30th, 2007 09:35 am (UTC)
Yeah, that's my little worry about DBAN, which diffrentcolours recommends above. I haven't read the instructions in full detail yet, so there may be alternative methods - but it does seem to talk about booting from a floppy rather a lot. My old machine does have a floppy drive, but I seem to remember it had got rather unreliable...
edling
Jul. 30th, 2007 02:17 pm (UTC)
I'd agree with some of the people above that removing and destroying the HD is a bit overblown- we only do that with the HDs of our directors and financial people, and even that's because we're a bit paranoid and like taking things apart and hitting them with stuff.
It looks like DBAN has a version for CDs- you should just be able to download that, stick it on a disk, boot from it and let it do its stuff- one of the great things about it being an old PC that you don't want any more is that you don't have to worry about breaking anything :)
I wouldn't bother re-installing Windows (or anything else) on it unless you fancy trying it for interests sake- the ReCom page doesn't mention having an OS, and it's probably a bit legally dodgy as Windows is technically a non-transferrable licence so you can't give it to anyone else anyway.
strange_complex
Jul. 30th, 2007 03:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the reassurance. I didn't know that about Windows - how bizarre! So strictly, you can't give away any computer that has Windows installed on it? Very silly.
edling
Jul. 31st, 2007 11:56 pm (UTC)
It's one of those tremendously complicated licencing things that Microsoft seems to love- it'd take a lawyer or lots of time to work out for sure, but I think that the XP licence that you get with any PC you buy with it pre-installed only allows the original purchaser to transfer it once; As the original purchaser is your desktops supplier and they've tranferred it to you, you technically have no rights to transfer it or sell it to anyone else.
I very much doubt it's something you could ever realistically get into trouble for, but nevertheless it's there.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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