I-TEAM | Tech trash, hackers’ treasure found: Cyber security expert shares safest way to dispose of technology

Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 8:44 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - ‘Tis the season for new electronics — but when it’s time to toss out or trade in your old tech, how do you do it safely to protect your information? Our I-TEAM took your questions to the experts.

Hoping Santa brings you something smarter than an etch-a-sketch this year? Well before you toss, sell, or trade that old tech cyber security experts have a word of advice.

“The first thing they need to do when they want to buy a new one or trade their devices is to get rid of their data correctly and properly,” said Dr. Hoda Maleki, assistant professor for computer and cyber science at Augusta University.

And properly does not mean just resetting your device to factory settings.

“So when you do a factory reset, the actual data is not being removed. It’s still there,” said Maleki.

Which makes places like eBay and Facebook Marketplace a goldmine for hackers to buy your old stuff and mine it for its data. So what are you supposed to do?

“Based on the DOD recommendation, the best way is to override the data seven times. At least seven times. Then destroy it physically,” she said.

And that goes for tablets, smartphones, laptops, even smart TVs.

To overwrite the data you run a file eraser program on your device or its hard drive. You can Google the different options but permanent eraser is a good one for Macs, eraser is good for Windows. Type in ‘7′ when it asks you how many times you want to overwrite your files. And be patient — it will take several hours.

“The best way is to remove the hardware put it on a new computer and use that computer to erase whatever information completely on the hardware,” said Maleki.

But even that doesn’t make your device or your data hacker-proof.

If you really have sensitive data — bank information, HIPPA files, whatever is worth taking an extra step to protect.

You need power tools.

“After you erase it, it’s best to either hammer it or drill it. The best way is to drill it more than one spot. The best they say is 4 points,” she said.

And the experts say it may be tempting, but don’t cut corners and skip ahead to this part.

“This is good, but make sure to erase it before this. Because still, if the hacker is good and has enough money, he can extract something,” said Maleki.

To keep a Grinch from stealing Christmas – or your identity this season.

If you’re trying to resell or trade-in a device know there’s always a risk of a really good hacker following the bread crumbs hidden in your hard drive, but if that’s a risk you’re willing to take, after overwriting your data seven times, also run a factory reset.

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