New crucial steps to wipe your smartphone or tablet before selling it

July 17, 2014

Urgent: New crucial steps to wipe your smartphone or tablet

Have you recently upgraded your computer, smartphone or tablet? You might be wondering what to do with your old one, besides letting it sit in a closet or drawer.

Whether you sell it, recycle it, give it to charity or use it as a doorstop, there's one thing you must, absolutely, without a doubt, do first. I'm talking about wiping out your personal information.

Reminder: Check your gadget's DVD drive, USB port or card reader to make sure you haven't left any discs, flash drives or memory cards behind.

Whether it's passwords, tax documents, contacts, personal photos, home videos or anything else sensitive, you don't want it falling into the wrong hands. You don't just want to delete it either.

Deleted files aren't really gone - they're just hidden. Anyone who knows what they're doing can find them.

To keep your information safe, you need to permanently wipe it out. I'll tell you how to do this on your computer, smartphone and tablet, and I'll start with a computer.

COMPUTERS

One surefire way to destroy your data for good is to physically destroy the computer's hard drive. You can hit it with a hammer, crush it or reuse it with one of these creative ideas.

If you decide to destroy it, make sure to safely dispose of the parts. You can find out where to safely recycle your tech on this site.

Of course, you don't want to destroy the hard drive if you plan on trading in, selling or giving away your computer. In that case, you need another way to remove your personal information.

Unfortunately, you can't just drag sensitive files to your Recycle Bin and then empty it. Deleting files that way only hides them temporarily until the operating system overwrites them.

Anyone with the right tools will be able to recover them. The fastest way to permanently erase personal information is to wipe your hard drive.

On Windows 8, put the mouse cursor in the top right corner of the screen and select Settings and then Change PC Settings. Select "Update and recovery" and click Recovery. Under "Remove everything and reinstall Windows," click Get Started.

If you use Windows 7 or earlier, click here for instructions to reinstall the operating system.

Wiping your hard drive will make it tough for thieves to steal your information, but not impossible. For even better security, you want to wipe the drive several times.

That's where a program like Darik's Boot and Nuke comes in handy. It wipes and overwrites your drive several times so that every file is completely destroyed.

Important note: DBAN only works for conventional magnetic hard drives. If you have a solid-state drive, the manufacturer should have included a secure erase program. Click here to learn the difference between a conventional HDD and an SSD.

Keep in mind that wiping your hard drive means you'll need to re-install the operating system and programs. This can be a hassle, especially if you no longer have the original installation disks.

Another option is to delete only your sensitive files. This will leave the operating system and software intact.

First, remove your computer's User Account. This is what stores nearly all of your personal files and settings. In Windows, go to Control Panel>>User Accounts. Click Manage User Accounts, select your User Account and click the Delete Account link.

You may have to sign in as the administrator to finish this. If you only have one account, you'll need to create a new administrator account, sign in to the new account and then delete your old account.

For Mac, go to System Preferences>>Accounts. Click the lock icon in the lower left corner and enter the administrator username and password. Select your user account and click the Delete button. Click Delete Immediately to remove all your user files.

Once that's done, use a program like Eraser for Windows or Permanent Eraser for Mac to wipe the free space on your hard drive or delete specific files. The program overwrites the selected area several times to prevent anyone from recovering it.

Reminder: These programs are for conventional drives only. Don't use them with a solid-state drive.

I recommend this method only if you plan on giving away your computer to someone you know and trust. That way, if you accidentally forget to delete some sensitive files, it won't be so damaging.

SMARTPHONES AND TABLETS

The easiest way to erase personal data on a smartphone or tablet is with a factory reset. You'll also want to remove any SIM card or SD card that might be in the gadget.

Apple
For Apple gadgets, go to Settings>>General>>Reset. Select "Erase All Content and Settings" and then tap the red button that pops up.

Android
For Androids, things are a bit more complicated. There was a huge news story recently when security company avast! decided to see how good a factory reset is. So, it grabbed 20 used Android phones that were reset and went fishing.

Avast! managed to pull more than 40,000 photos from the phones, including more than 1,500 pictures of children, 750+ racy images of women and 250+ nude males selfies. Of course, avast! also got Google searches, emails, texts, contacts and one complete loan application.

Getting rid of that kind of stuff is the whole point of wiping your phone, so avast's news was a little worrying.

Naturally, avast! says the solution is to use the "thorough wipe" feature in its paid app. However, there are other ways.

The phones avast! tested were running older versions of Android, which aren't as secure. To see what version of Android you're running, go to Settings>>About Phone and look under Android version.

If you have a gadget running Android 4.1 or higher, you can go to Settings>>Personal>>Backup & Reset. Then select the Factory data reset button. That is enough, but you can follow the instructions below if you want to be double sure.

For older gadgets, you'll want to encrypt your files before you wipe the phone. The factory reset will keep casual snoops away, and encrypting the data will make it impossible for techies to read anything they do find.

To encrypt your phone, go to Settings>>Security. If you can't find the option there, check your gadget's manual - every version of Android has it somewhere a little different.

After you've turned on encryption, go to Settings>>Personal>>Backup & Reset. Then select the Factory data reset button.

Note: I don't normally recommend turning on encryption on a gadget you still use. If you forget the password, your files are lost forever.

Windows Phone
For Windows Phone 8, go to Settings>>About>>Reset Phone. A pop-up menu will ask you to confirm.

Before you do this, make sure the information you need is already on your new smartphone or tablet. Once you've done this, you can't recover anything.


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