“I have several old computers that I would like to donate to charitable organizations for schools,” one reader wrote in an email. “I have erased the information on the hard drive but have heard that simply deleting data doesn’t remove it completely. Can you advise how to securely wipe data from a computer?”
Unfortunately, they heard right: just because you’ve deleted a file on your computer and emptied the Recycle Bin doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. Making sure those files are properly gone will take some extra work, but if you’re considering donating, selling, or even recycling an old computer with a hard drive in it, it’s absolutely worth putting in the time.
“There are so many stories about people buying used computers online and recovering data,” said Andrés Arrieta, director of consumer privacy engineering at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “It’s kind of scary. It’s all your life there.”
If you’re serious about keeping your data away from potentially prying eyes, here’s how to securely erase your old hard drives.
For hard drives inside a working computer
If you can actually fire up and use the computer you’re trying to get rid of, consider yourself lucky. With the right software, the process can be mercifully simple. Thankfully, in some cases, the operating system that runs the computer already has everything you’ll need to securely erase the hard drive.
- Click the Settings icon, then click “Change PC Settings”
- Click Update and recovery, followed by “Recovery”
- Under the heading “Remove everything and reinstall Windows,” click “Get started”
- When prompted, select the option “Fully clean the drive”
- Click the Windows button in the…