Returning or Selling a Device? Wipe All Data First
The surprising items that retain your data
A few months ago, our Roku smart TV stopped working, much to the glee of my husband who was angling for a higher-end set. After wrestling it off the wall, I expressed concern about clearing the data since we couldn’t turn the screen on. My husband didn’t believe that a TV would hold sensitive data.
Fortunately, Google is on my side. A quick search confirmed yes, to make a TV “smart” essentially means the device has capabilities like a computer, and has internet connectivity. They retain information, like passwords and profile details, so you can quickly access online features. TVs connected to the internet can also be a gateway for hackers.
Televisions, computers and smartphones are not the only devices that hold personal data. Smart home devices, tablets, health wearables, music devices, VR headsets, gaming consoles and even some kids toys are just a few examples of items with computer brains that can retain personal information.
The risk is bad actors scouring these items, even if broken, mining passwords, security codes, credit card or banking information, tax information, health records, facial recognition or fingerprint images and more. This could result in identity theft or hacking of personal or work systems.
Removing your information may not be terribly obvious. After all, these devices are designed to retain data and protect us from losing it. However, it is important to take extra steps to remove information from all devices with computing capabilities before donating, disposing of them or even giving to a friend or family member.
Clearing data from devices
It is a good idea to research the make and model of your device, and read the manufacturer’s recommendation for clearing your personal information. However, often that is not enough to fully remove all data. Here are some basic strategies that apply to clearing data from all types of devices.
1. Back up. Make sure you have backed up all files, photos, contact lists and other personal information that you want to keep to the cloud, a drive on a separate device.
2. Disconnect storage devices. Remove all memory cards, discs or other storage connected to the device. Remove and retain the SIM card from a smartphone.
3. Delete files and sign out. If possible, go through and delete all stored information on the device, including files and saved passwords. Empty the trash bin. Sign out of all linked accounts such as email. Delete all apps.
An alternative is to use software specifically meant to overwrite your stored data, erasing your information. Read independent reviews to select the best software for the job, or use free Disk Wipe for Windows systems or Disk Utility on Mac OS.
4. Encrypt data. On phones and computers, you can encrypt data so that if a new owner or bad actor tries to restore your information, they won’t be able to. Some newer devices have encryption built in, like newer Samsung smart TVs and most android devices. If not, encrypt your data before performing a factory reset.
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5. Factory reset. Do a factory reset on the device. Typically, you can access this feature through the device’s menu. If the screen is dead, Google information on how to do a factory reset without turning on the device. We had to do this for our television. It was as simple as sticking a paperclip into a recessed port, and holding it until a tiny indicator light turned from green to red.
Note that a factory reset alone may not completely wipe information from a device, so follow as many steps above as possible.
6. Physically destroy your drive. On desktop and laptop computers, you can open up the device and physically remove the hard drive(s). Refer to a schematic for your device for the easiest way to recognize and access different types of drives, like SATA or SSD.
You can keep these drives to install in another device in a secure location such as your safe or bank safe deposit box. However, if they are old and you have removed all the data, the safest route is to physically destroy the drive. Put on some safety glasses and go to town on the drive with a hammer, in an area with enough space to let debris fly.
Please also be as kind to the planet as possible and search out electronics recycling in your area when getting rid of a device. According to MN Pollution Control you must recycle televisions and computer monitors, as well as any devices or components that contain mercury or rechargeable batteries. Keep anything with a circuit board out of the garbage:
- Cell phones
- DVD and VCR players
- Fax machines
Fortunately, almost anything electronic can be recycled. There are both government entities and private companies that handle recycling around the state. For more information about recycling electronic waste and to find a location near you, visit arvig.net/recycle.