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Computer Disposal - Throwing Away Your Computer, Money, and Identity?

by Jackson Morgan

Published on this site: June 21st, 2005 - See more articles from this month...

Computer Disposal and Security

Computer Disposal - Security is not only important while using your new PC, but when disposing of your legacy or old computer equipment as well. Information can be retrieved in several different ways once your system leaves your house or office. In my state we have a recycling container at the solid waste authority which you can bring your old PC’s to. On May 31st, 2005, I decided to do an experiment and see what people actually throw away. So, I took my trusty laptop, an external USB hard drive shell, and waited for my first victim. (All identities have been changed to protect the newest casualties of the TCAD)

Leaving Your Credit Cards At The Dump

John Doe (age – 46)

I explained my reason for being there and asked if he would like to participate. After obliging, I asked him a few question. I got a laugh out of this one.

Jackson – “What would you say your technical skills are?”

John – “I don’t know -bleep-, this is my son’s computer, and he said it was broke”

So I proceeded to take his hard drive out to see what I could find. (And boy did I find stuff) I found 64 word and excel documents containing everything from a book report titled Trusting Human Nature to a detailed spreadsheet titled Our Debt. John said "a year ago, we refinanced our house, and my son helped us put this spreadsheet together of our credit cards and miscellaneous debts". Believe it or not it, actually had the names of the credit cards, account numbers, and amount owed on each one. After I showed John, he asked me to check if his son was surfing on sites he was asked not to go on. I told him the system looked clean and his son was following his rules to a T. (You owe me Junior)

Out of 5 PC’s I saw that day, all of them had recoverable files. John Doe’s being the worst with the Our Debt spreadsheet.

What should I do?

There are many applications that can help you format your hard disk drive, but even their lawyers won’t allow them to say its 100% effective.

So, what should you do? Here are a couple ideas on computer disposal that may help:

  • Go ahead and recycle your computer in an EPA fashion, but remove your hard disk drive and add it to your new system for extra storage (Secure);

  • Find a local company that will melt you hard disk drive. Usually a recycler or machine shop will do this for you (Secure, but it will cost money);

  • Find a local company that will use a degaussing machine in order to eradicate your hard disk drive (Secure, but it will cost money);

  • Use a secondary application to format your drive, but run the program 3-5 times even if it states it’s not necessary (99.9% secure, but still possible to recover data).

Computer Disposal and the EPA

Make sure when you recycle your old system you comply with the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") guidelines. Here are some basic facts on computer disposal that will help you.

According to the official EPA website www.epa.gov:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency has strict regulations regarding the disposal of hazardous materials;

  • Penalties for violations are distributed in the form of fines as well as Public Service;

  • Nearly 250 million computers will become obsolete in the next five years;

  • Many people discard computers every three to five years;

  • In 2004, only 11 percent of personal computers retired in the U.S. were recycled.


TVs and computers can contain an average of four pounds of lead (depending on their size, make and vintage) as well as other substances of potential concern like chromium, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, nickel, zinc and brominated flame retardants. These materials need to be handled carefully and are potential health hazards.

On top of all the chemicals and biohazards, your computer probably contains personal information. If this information falls into the wrong hands, you could be on the receiving end of identity theft and various forms of fraud.

Websites that may be of interest:

  • The Computer Disposal Requirements section of the EPA;

  • SnapFiles Handy Recovery data recovery freeware tool;

  • R-tools Technology R-Wipe & Clean disk cleaning and PC privacy software.

Jackson Morgan is a Sr. desktop support specialist and works with small to large businesses. He is certified to work on many platforms and has over eight years experience in the field. If you would like to contact Jackson you can e-mail him at [email protected]. If you would like to know more about computer security please visit us at http://www.defendingthenet.com



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