Before you dispose of electronics, you may wonder, what do you do with the old one when upgrading your smartphone, computer, or other electronic device? Many people throw their old electronics in the trash or recycle them without thinking twice. However, this casual electronics disposal can seriously affect your data and information.
When you dispose of electronics and data devices, the data stored on them doesn’t simply vanish. Contacts, photos, text messages, emails, financial information, and browsing history can still be retrieved. If that data is in the wrong hands, it can lead to identity theft or other cybercrimes. This is especially true for smartphones, which often contain even more sensitive information than computers.
So, how can you ensure your data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands when disposing of electronics? Here are some tips:
Before you dispose of Electronics
The first step is to thoroughly wipe or delete all data from the device. This means manually deleting files, emptying the recycle bin, and restoring the device to its factory settings if possible. Be sure to remove SIM cards, SD cards, and other removable storage. Deleting the data doesn’t always remove it entirely, making it more difficult to recover.
Use Data Destruction Software For more secure data removal, use particular programs designed to overwrite storage space multiple times. This overwriting essentially renders the old data unrecoverable. Programs like DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) can be used on old computers. For mobile devices, the device manufacturers may have data erasure tools available.
Remove Physical Storage If your device has physical data storage like a hard drive or SD card, remove and physically destroy these components before recycling the rest of the device. Hard drive platters can be removed and scratched, shattered or otherwise physically damaged. Destroying the physical storage components leaves no possibility of recovering the data later.
Take It to a Specialist You can also bring your old electronics to a digital asset destruction service. These specialists will safely destroy and dispose of electronics and devices while ensuring your data is completely removed first. This process typically involves degaussing (removing stored magnetic data), physical shredding and/or crushing, and issuing a certificate of destruction. Though often used by corporations and government agencies, these services are also available to individuals.
What Happens When You Don’t Wipe Your Data?
If you throw out or recycle your old electronics without deleting personal data, you never know where that information will end up. Your device could end up in…
Landfills: Unwanted electronics often end up in municipal landfills. If not crushed onsite, intact devices with recoverable data can be dug up.
Recyclers: Much donated or recycled e-waste gets shipped overseas for processing. Workers disassembling devices for reusable components and metals can access the data.
Thieves: Thieves scavenge dumpsters and recycling bins, looking for discarded electronics to resell. Unwiped data means an unlocked trove of personal information.
Buyers: Second-hand buyers may purchase your old devices online or in stores. Some will refurbish and resell without checking for leftover data.
The burgeoning e-waste recycling business often involves low-paid workers disassembling discarded electronics in facilities with little oversight. There is a real risk of sensitive personal data ending up in the wrong hands. Even here in the US, recyclers often ship e-waste overseas to be processed more cheaply. Tracking what ultimately happens to your data is nearly impossible.
Data Breaches Lead to Identity Theft – Dispose of Electronics the Right Way
Lingering personal data on disposed devices is an identity thief’s dream. Names, birth dates, passwords, financial accounts, and social security numbers can all be used to compromise your identity. Data breaches have increased, even among major retailers and credit reporting agencies. Proper electronic disposal protects you from yet another avenue of potential identity theft.
Researchers at The University of Texas at San Antonio and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations purchased several used hard drives and other electronics online from recyclers a few years back. They easily recovered sensitive financial and medical information from nearly 80 percent of the drives. This real-world test highlights the importance of thorough data destruction.
These days, we store more and more personal and professional information on electronic devices. That data could be compromised if you don’t take proper precautions when removing an old smartphone, computer, USB drive, or e-reader. Take the time to clear your data before disposal or destruction completely. Your identity and security are worth the minimal effort to do it right.
Here are some essential tips to keep in mind when you dispose of electronics:
- Manually delete all data from the device. This includes files, emails, texts, and other user-generated data.
- If possible, perform a factory reset to wipe the hard drive back to a blank state.
- Remove the device’s SIM cards, SD cards, and other external storage.
- Use data destruction software like DBAN for computers or built-in wipe features on mobile devices.
- Physically destroy hard drives, if possible, by removing, crushing, shredding, or smashing the disk platters.
- Bring devices to reputable specialists for assured data destruction if you don’t feel comfortable with DIY methods.
- Never place old electronics in the trash or recycling without wiping your data first.
Following best practices for electronically erasing personal information can provide peace of mind and protect your identity when acquiring your exciting new devices. Don’t let an old smartphone or computer come back to haunt you. Securely wipe any lingering data before tossing out or recycling your old electronics. Keep yourself safe and dispose of electronics the Right Way!