Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Saying goodbye to your PC? Do this first

Saying goodbye to your PC? Do this first
Tue, Apr 14, 2009
The Straits Times, Digital Life

Question: I am planning to trade in my computer and am hoping you could advise if there is any foolproof way to clean out the memory so that even computer forensic experts can never retrieve it again. --Deborah Koh

Answer: The computer RAM will not contain any information because it is cleared every time you turn off the computer. However, the hard disk drive is a magnetic storage medium that will retain your information even when it is turned off.

The way to clear the information on the hard drive without damaging it is to format it but as you fear the data being retrieved by forensic experts, you need to use a more secure way of erasure.

You will need to utilise special software to accomplish the task and I have always liked using a utility CD that is full of useful utilities.

It is called Ultimate Boot CD (www.ultimatebootcd.com) and it includes a number of hard disk utilities to help erase the hard drive, one of which is the Active@ Killdisk utility. You can also download that as a standalone program from www.killdisk.com.

Active@ Killdisk will suffice and you can be confident that the information cannot be easily retrieved. It accomplishes this by formatting the hard drive and writing in a single pass using zeros to all addressable areas of the hard drive at the hardware level.

If you really want military strength erasure, you will have to use software that is certified and that usually means writing to the hard drive three times using a combination of zeros, random characters and other forms of writing.

Should you be paranoid about the hard drive data, you can remove the hard drive and have it physically destroyed. You can also look for a company that specialises in data erasure using a hardware device called a Degausser to completely wipe the hard drive clean.

Answer by Chester Chen, a PC enthusiast.

This story was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life.

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