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What Kind of Private Data Can Be Recovered from a Used Hard Drive?

You might be surprised to hear it, but deleting data from your computer doesn’t remove it completely. Even emptying it from the Recycle Bin doesn’t ensure that it’s vanished. The data will still be lingering around on your drive. There are techniques that can be used (it’s a cop show cliché) to recover data from a hard drive. There are security issues when it comes to this. One of these is that if you sell your hard drive to someone else, or just throw it out without destroying it properly, then they could still view a lot of your old data, even if you’ve deleted it.
The reason for this is because once you delete something from your drive the space is just marked as being free. The drive will only write over that space once something else is written to the drive (if you save a file, for example). Depending on how often you use the drive, it could be a long time before the data is actually overwritten for good. If nothing overwrites it then it is pretty easy for someone to get that data back.
Research carried out by British Telecom showed that only 33% of second hand hard drives had been completely wiped clean. Think about all the data that you might have on your hard drive: family photos, music collections, films… perhaps not the end of the world if someone else does get their hands on them, but still private stuff that you wouldn’t want to share. Then think further: financial accounts, bank details, customer details. This especially applies if you’re a business.
Someone buying a second hand drive isn’t necessarily going to have malicious intent, but it’s still something that you need to protect yourself from. If that person finds out the origin of the hard drive (from a business, say) and they don’t have good intentions then all that data could soon be in their hands.
As such, it is vitally important that you take steps to ensure your hard drive is properly clean of past data. You will need to perform what is known as a secure delete. You can use software, like Eraser, which overwrites the delete files with random data. You can choose how many times you want the data to be overwritten, all the way up to 35 times (known as the Gutmann method), to ensure absolute deletion. Other programs are also available, like CCleaner or SDelete.
If you are looking to get rid of some of your hard drives then you need to ensure that you remove all the data from them properly. If you are not looking to sell the hard drives on then, if possible, you should look at physically destroying the drive. There are companies who will perform this for you in bulk, using advanced shredding methods which ensure that the drive can’t be pieced back together or recovered it anyway. This way there will be absolutely no chance of anyone untoward getting their hands on your data.


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