Remember to get rid of sensitive data before recycling hard drive

CHAMPAIGN – So you're getting ready for the electronics recycling event this Saturday in Champaign and you've got that old computer from the closet that you're finally going to get rid of.

Hold on there.

What could be on the hard drive of that computer should give you pause. Recycling the machine will keep a lot of potentially dangerous metals, chemicals and plastics out of landfills, either here or overseas. But you should make sure you're not handing over sensitive information about yourself at the same time.

"Nowadays there are so many things that are stored on computers that would be detrimental to personal privacy" if the wrong people got hold of the information, said Connie Macedo, associate director of technical support services for Parkland College.

"There are passwords, other information, (records) regarding banking, that you would want to keep secret," she said. "As a convenience, they're stored on your computer. But there are a lot of savvy people out there who would like to have access to that."

So how do you take care of that problem and still recycle the machine?

It's not that hard.

At the very least, you should reformat the hard drive. A simple Internet search for "reformat hard drive" will give you the instructions for whichever operating system – Windows, Mac, Linux – you're using. There are so many ways of doing so that we won't try to describe them all.

There is software, much of it free, that claims to erase all data permanently. Beware: a search for "how to erase hard drive" produced 1.2 million hits on Google.

But as then-News-Gazette reporter and technology columnist Greg Kline wrote a few years ago, "If you're getting rid of a computer and want to be absolutely sure no one can recover your old files, remove the hard drive and destroy it."

Physically removing the drive can be easy or difficult, and there is no perfect universal set of instructions for opening the computer case, because they are built so differently. In general, though, desktop computer cases will have a removable side or top or three-sided panel (top and two sides) held on by screws in the back. You may find the front panel also connected to the removable panel by pins or other devices; that panel is usually removable by hand by manipulating tabs and slots. Laptops have more variety, but in most cases, you should be able to find how to remove the hard drive by searching the website of its manufacturer. Look for a manual or instructions on upgrading the hard drive. You don't want to upgrade, but the instructions will include directions for removing the old drive.

There are two basic kinds of hard drives; they look the same for the most part, but their connectors are different. The difference matters only in that the older drives will be connected by two cables or ribbons, while newer drives will have one smaller cable connecting them to the machine.

The drive may be screwed into place; if you're patient, you'll figure how to remove it.

Once you have the drive out of the machine, the easiest way to render it inoperable is to take a power drill to it: Put a couple of holes in the drive and it will be unusable. You can use a hammer, but some hard drives, while internally delicate, may have very hard cases protecting them.

For the recycling event, if you have any doubts, just take the drive out of the machine and recycle the rest. Then you can take care of the hard drive at your convenience.

The contractor for Saturday's event, Vintage Tech Recyclers Inc., meets or exceeds requirements in the Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act, according to the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission. Still, the contractor and the event sponsors waive responsibility for any data left on any hard drive.

Residential electronics collection

When: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

Where: The News-Gazette Distribution Center, 3202 Apollo Drive, C.

What can be dropped off: TVs of any size or type; computers, including laptops; computer monitors; printers; scanners; keyboards and mice; mobile phone cables; zip drives; fax machines; VCR players; DVD players; MP3 players; personal data assistants; and video game consoles.

Limit: Up to 10 items.

Coordinator: Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.

Sponsors and contributors: Champaign County, Champaign County Probation and Court Services, City of Urbana, City of Champaign, Village of Savoy, The News-Gazette, University of Illinois College of Fine and Applied Arts and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.

Contractor: Vintage Tech Recycling Inc., based in Romeoville.

Questions: 328-3313.

Comments

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cretis16 wrote on August 02, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Is this FREE? Can I drop off an old TV?

Mike Howie wrote on August 03, 2010 at 9:08 am
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Yes, the event is free for residents of Champaign County, and TVs are acceptable. Here's more info: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/environment/2010-07-26/electronics-recy...