Before you dispose of that old computer, it is advised that you take note of certain very serious and dangerous security issues. Ignoring these issues could have a traumatic and life changing effect on you.

You may not appreciate or realise it, but the old machine that has served you well has a secret that someone else wants to get hold of. It has, in all probability enough bits of information on the hard drive to put together a very detailed personal profile on you and possibly other members of your family.

Hopefully, this article will save someone from losing their ID by ID Fraud or by thieves dipping in to their bank account and helping themselves to their hard earned savings.

ID Fraud is becoming a rapidly growing threat. It is thought that 3 out of every 4 home computers contain enough data and information for an ID fraudster to construct enough to masquerade to obtain a passport, bank account, credit cards in your name.

The word ‘data’ is used throughout this article. In this context data means:
Your name, address, age, date & place of birth, your bank branch, account number, passwords, eBay username, PayPal username, TSF username and password, etc. Also data means all manner of other stuff like photographs (very handy for applying for a duplicate passport or other photo ID items), music, personal letters, dates & places of birth of other members of the family and friends too.

‘Deleting’ all the data from a hard drive does not delete it. Even putting the data into the recycle bin and then emptying that bin does not remove the data. It can still be easily recovered.
Formatting the hard drive only makes no difference either- the data can still be recovered.

It is possible to use hard drive ‘scrubbing’ software that will write ‘1’ & ‘0’ on every part of your hard drive. It needs to do this at least 8 times before all data is deemed unrecoverable. The problem with this for the average home computer owner is that the software costs, and it also takes some time to do its job.

This assumes that the computer and or the hard drive still works. But what if the computer is dead? It may surprise many, but the data can still be easily recovered in most instances. The following should serve as a warning on how easy recovery can be.

For security reasons, it will not be revealed how the data were retrieved other than to say that the author is not a specialist in data recovery! Just an ordinary computer enthusiast with no specialist software or tools. Just the normal run of the mill stuff that will be found on 99.9% of all PCs.

It is dead! It was tried in several computers. Yes it was dead. But it still gave up its secrets...

Fig 1 A ‘dead’ hard drive.

This drive was sent to the author in the UK from a friend in the USA in hopes or retrieving much valuable & sensitive data. There had not been any data backup regime. The only copy of data was on the ‘dead’ hard drive. It came from an elderly home computer where one member of the family did annual taxation for several friends. Another family member used it for writing University notes etc. and another member used it for general purposes.

The data retrieved was virtually the total amount on the ‘dead’ hard drive. It was not thought necessary to retrieve the programmes as they could be re-installed; only the data that the programmes generated was copied.

Data recovered in full:
* All IRS tax affairs of several people over previous 4 – 5 years, including returns, banking details, and social security numbers etc.
* Personal ID information of several other people
* Several gigabytes of family photographs that were thought to be lost forever.
* University work, notes and all.
* Private general correspondence covering several years.
* Music library
* ... and a host of other stuff that the original owner was very pleased to see when he received a few DVDs holding it all.

An historian professor friend of the author had a ‘dead’ hard drive. Again, no back-ups. It contained the only copy of a book he was writing on an Elizabethan Gentleman, together with all his research notes, images etc. About 2 years work. But even sadder, were all the photographs of the last holiday they had together before his wife died suddenly.

The author managed to retrieve over 90% of the data including the book, notes and photographs.

The author hopes that these two cases will horrify the reader on how easy and simple it was for a novice to peek into the ‘dead’ hard drives.

Think how vulnerable you would be if your hard drive fell into the hands of unscrupulous persons. Just think how much easier it is for a professional data thief with specialist equipment and recovery software to gain access.

The other issue that these two cases highlighted was BACKING UP DATA. In both cases, they said “I kept meaning to but....” In fact, the author has expressed those very words himself.

Dear reader, do you back up your data? What would you do if your computer broke down up right now? If you do not backup, then you could lose many memories, work, money and time at the very minimum. It could even be much worse.

Returning to the subject of data security on your old machine that you are replacing. The author strongly recommends that before you part with that old work horse, remove the hard drive/s.

Unless you can afford the specialist ‘scrubbing’ software and the time overhead, the safest way of ensuring that your data are safely and totally put out of commission is literally to physically destroy the hard drive. It is not worth the sorrow and aggravation.

There are at least two ways of destroying a hard drive; A quick & easy way, and a slow and interesting way. Please note, both techniques will invalidate any warranty.

First, the quick way:
Introduce the hard drive to a club hammer and give it the good news. Several goodly blows may be needed to destroy the data platters.

Fig 2. Be prepared to meet thy doom.

Fig 3. Vengeance is sweet.

Fig 3a. That was fun.

The slower but more interesting way:
You will also retrieve two extremely powerful magnets, which are quite useful.

The drive from case 1 above:

Fig 4. The dead hard drive.
You will need a small ‘star’ type screwdriver

Fig 5. Remove these screws including those hidden under the labels.

Fig 6. Remove all screws from the controller board.

Fig 7 Remove all indicated screws

Fig 8. Two very powerful magnets.

Fig 9. The hard drive stripped down.

Fig 10 Use one of the magnets to wipe over both surfaces of all platters.
In this example drive, there was only one platter. In many drives there several platters.

Fig 11. One of the magnets lifting a 3.3Kg (7.5 lb) cast iron vice.

The magnets can be useful in the workshop for retrieving nuts, screws, tools etc., that have been dropped in awkward places.

After stripping the drive down, the platter can be used as a mirror/coaster/talking item. Magnets can be used as magnets. Keep them well away from floppy disks, CRT monitors and TV screens. If placed on or near a CTR or TV screen it will magnetise it an PERMANENTLY ruin it. Do not even think about testing this statement.

Recycle the aluminium casing.

Final note:
Please do not try and contact the author for details of how the data recovery was done. He will not reply.

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