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How To Destroy The Dangerous Data On Your Hard Drive
Some things are made to be recycled, but your identity isn't one of them. The Round Rock Recycling Center is being swamped with tech cast-offs.
"This is a palette of material here. We're averaging about 20 palettes a week," said Tracy Herring, Environmental Services Supervisor for Round Rock.
She knows that some of these computers may still have life left in them, your life.
"We hope people are schooled enough on identity theft to know that if they leave information on their cell phones and computers they're leaving themselves open for people to take advantage of that," said Herring.
With the permission of the recycling center we put that schooling to the test. We removed the first six hard drives we found and turned them over to KEYE TV's information technology manager.
"It's really easy," said Javier Jimenez.
He inserted the hard drives into a $40 drive bay and in about a minute had access to files you wouldn't want anyone to see.
"His turbo tax. Christmas pictures. You can go into his documents. It's right here," said Jimenez.
The IT manager found personal information on four of the six hard drives.
"Documents, pictures, downloads. Everything was just kind of left behind," said Jimenez. "I try not to look, too deep."
Which is reassuring to Alan Lifshen.
"I started thinking about it. What would be on there I wouldn't want somebody to see?" said Lifshen.
Left on Lifshen’s hard drive - personal information, a resume, photos and his unlisted phone number. In fact, that's how we got in touch with him.
"At first I couldn't figure out why you were calling. Then when you said something about the computer I figured everything out. I knew you probably had all the information you wanted," said Lifshen.
None of the information on Lifshen's hard drive, or the other three, had even been deleted.
"Anybody can get it," said Austin Police Detective Charles Riley.
But, Detective Riley, with the digital forensics unit, says deleting it likely wouldn't have made a difference. "They hit the delete key and think it's gone forever and it's not," he says.
You don't see the deleted information, but it's still sitting on the hard drive until the computer puts new data over it.
"It could go months maybe even longer than that without ever needing to write any data to that specific spot, where that deleted file currently sits," said Detective Riley.
Which means, when you're ready to dump that drive, it's hammer time.
Physically destroying the hard drive is not elegant. But, no matter how you puncture the platter it is the least expensive and easiest way to guarantee your privacy doesn't take a pounding.
Before you recycle your old computer, take out the hard drive. You only have to undo a few screws. Then put on your safety glasses and start pounding. The round area where the platter sits is your primary target. You need to make sure the platter that spins inside the hard drive goes from flat to bumpy. It may even shatter, which is why you need the glasses. Once the drive is destroyed, you're ready to drop it off with no fears your identity will get a second life.
By Bettie Cross