Blog Important Security Steps to Take before Selling or Disposing Your Old Computer
Alex Lloyd September 17, 2013

Important Security Steps to Take before Selling or Disposing Your Old Computer

old computers
Protect your sensitive data before disposing your old computer.

When you are planning to sell your computer, it’s important to take a few critical steps to ensure that you aren’t giving away something more than just electronic devices and gadgets. Today, people spend a great deal of time working with their computers, performing all sorts of actions, using different software, and sharing, entering and storing personal information.

Just because you go through and delete a few personal files doesn’t mean that you’ve removed all traces of your information from the computer. There are logs, cookies, and program authorizations that need to be addressed and deleted as well as a host of other tracking information that could lead a savvy computer tech or hacker to find out a lot more about you than you’d like.

That’s why you should follow these five key steps to ensure that your computer is free and clear of any trace of your sensitive and personal information before you sell it or dispose it.

Make a Backup of All of Your Files

The first security step that you should take when you’re planning to sell your personal computer is to make a backup of all of your files that currently exist on it. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve transferred these files to a new computer; make a completely different and independent backup of what’s currently on this computer you’re planning to sell.

Depending on the number of files that you have, you may need significant storage, such as an external hard drive with 100 – 500 GB space, or even 1 terabyte. You can find a backup hard drive for anywhere from $50 and up. If you only have a few personal files, you could use a flash drive or a DVD.

No matter what method you use to back up your files, make sure that you include any pictures, personal documents, videos, and even music. Unfortunately, a lot of people have lost many valuable pictures and music files because they forgot to include them in their backup processes before selling their computer.

Deauthorize Any Files or Programs

Before you begin to remove programs, uninstall, or overwrite your hard drive, make sure that you de-authorize any programs that required some form of authorization in order to use them. A lot of software programs today allow you to use the program on a few computers and they track this information through the use of authorizations. When you fail to de-authorize a program, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to be able to use it on your new computer.

Even if you don’t plan on using the program on another computer, it’s still a good idea to remove the authorization because it stores some personal information on it that could be captured by someone who know what they’re doing if they purchase your used computer.

De-authorizing software takes very little time to do and can potentially save you a great deal of time and effort in the future.

Wipe the Drive

There are a number of programs that allow you to wipe out either sensitive files or the entire hard drive with 1s and 0s (the binary code). While you can certainly choose to simply write over specific files, you may miss some that contain sensitive information, so it is often recommended that you wipe the entire drive.

However, it’s also important to note that if you wipe the entire hard drive, you will wipe out any Windows license, so make sure that you have the physical discs and licenses to re-install your operating system, otherwise you’ll need to purchase a new license, which would decrease the amount of money that you would earn from the sale of your used computer.

Most of the programs that are available will offer a variety of wiping methods, as well as the number of times they overwrite the hard drive. The more times that the program writes over the drive, the more less chance someone has to retrieve any of the files or information that was once on it.

While you don’t need to go to extremes to protect your data, such as taking several days to wipe the drive 30 or more times, it’s a good idea to run the wipe program at least a few times to be sure that everything is gone.

For Windows computers, click here to find out the best disk wiping programs.
For MAC, click here to find out how you can erase your MAC’s hard drive.

Install the Old Operating System

Insert the boot drive and follow the instructions on the screen. Installing an operating system will also take a fair amount of time and depending on the computer, any add-ons, such as a more powerful graphics card or sound devices, you may need to install these drivers as well.

You can decide how sophisticated you want to be with the installation, but since you’ll be selling the computer, you only need to install the basic, or ‘recommended’ settings.
When you sell the computer, include the operating system boot up discs with it so that the new owner can configure the system the way he or she prefers.

Clean the Computer

The last step is to clean your computer. Physically clean it using a dust cleaning spray, a safe cleanser for the screen, and carefully work on removing any dirt from the keys. While this won’t do anything to keep your information secure, it may help get you a few more dollars for it because it will look nicer.

When you sell your computer, you don’t want to be selling any of your personal information as well. Following the security measures listed here will help ensure that you have removed your personal information from the old system.

Some people claim that these steps aren’t enough and that the best measure to be sure that your personal information is secure is to remove the hard drive, replace it with a new one and either store or physically destroy the old one. Whichever step you choose, in all but rare cases, you’ll be protecting your personal information from hackers.

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About Alex Lloyd

Alex Lloyd heads AnchorFree's content department. Before joining the team, he was a former professional race car driver—competing in the Indianapolis 500 four times—and has spent the past decade writing content for major publications such as Yahoo and CNN.

View all posts by Alex Lloyd
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