Does Factory Reset really delete everything permanently?
Every year, hundreds of thousands of PCs are sold second hand, recycled or sent to landfill. There are many ways that we can reduce the impact of this e-waste, but what about the data on these devices?
There are two problems to consider. Firstly, what do you do about the data you want to keep before you throw out an old laptop or desktop computer? Take the case of a man in Wales who threw out an old laptop having forgotten that his crypto-currency wallet was stored on it. At todays prices the laptop is probably worth less than £100 but the BitCoins stored on the laptop at worth over £100 million. The laptop is somewhere in a landfill in South Wales and the contents almost certainly lost forever. That’s an expensive mistake to make.
Making backups and transferring data to a new device is more important than ever with society using less and less hard copy and more digital content than ever before.
The second case to consider is the data you really do want to get rid of. Whether you are selling an old computer or sending it for recycling you almost certainly want to make sure that your personal data has been destroyed.
Many people will use the factory reset options on their device, whether it is a tablet, notebook or desktop. But does this really delete everything permanently? Given the number of tools available to recover deleted data after only a quick Google search the answer is probably not. If you factory reset a Windows 10 device and boot it back up again it certainly looks like everything is gone. But a quick scan with a data recovery tool soon finds a wealth of deleted files that can be recovered. These files could include sensitive bank details, passport information or other data that would allow someone to steal your identity or money.
There are also numerous cases of more personal and intimate files falling into the wrong hands. A little fun with a camera and your significant other can quickly become a major embarrassment and possibly even result in blackmail if photos or videos are involved.
Businesses take this very seriously and often contract out their data destruction to third-parties who ensure that and sensitive information is properly destroyed. This can range from deep disk formatting to degaussing to physical destruction of disks.
The Military take this even more seriously and for obvious reasons. Most countries armed forces provide detailed documentation for the handling and destruction of data. Even basic devices such as mobiles and laptops have to follow a procedure for data destruction before they can be recycled internally. For more confidential or top secret data a permanent solution is usually followed such as grinding up the device into tiny pieces.
So the next time you are thinking about selling or recycling an old computer, remember to ask yourself: have I backed up everything I need and have I destroyed everything I don’t want to share with the rest of the world!