You want to erase your hard drive completely before you donate or throw away your computer. Even if you format your hard drive, the data is still there and could be recovered by a knowledgeable technician. The last thing you want is to do a good deed and find yourself facing a hijacked bank account or identity theft.
Don't assume that data is completely gone from your hard drive when you erase a file. Deleting files and emptying your recycle bin doesn't get rid of the data. Even formatting a hard drive doesn't erase data completely; it just makes it more difficult to retrieve. A determined individual with a little bit of skill can find your data and use it to access your bank accounts, sabotage your business or even steal your identity.
Disk Wipe Software
Disk wipe software actually erases your data, overwrites the hard drive with new data, erases that data, and then overwrites the hard drive again. The software overwrites your hard drive data several times, depending on which software you use. With each new round of data rewrites, your original data becomes more difficult to recover.
The US government has security standards in place that dictate how many rewrites constitute complete erasure of hard-drive data. In medium government security standards, you'd need a total of six data rewrites before the data is safely destroyed. Higher and lower security standards exist, and it's entirely a personal choice as to how many rewrites you feel you need before you donate your computer.
Many hard-drive erasing programs offer sufficient protection for your sensitive data, but you should look for a few key features to ensure you're getting the right program. Look for data erase software that says it overwrites your data. That's the only way to truly make your data inaccessible.
If possible, find data erase software that offers different algorithms and security options, so you can select the option that best meets your needs. For maximum security, you can run several rounds of data overwrites using different algorithms; thus confusing any attempts to determine which algorithm you used and go back to recover your data.
More secure algorithms do take longer to run, so you could be looking at hours to completely erase your hard drive, maybe even hours over several sessions. It's worthwhile for the peace of mind to know that you don't have to worry about identity theft or losing sensitive data.
Learning how to install a new hard drive doesn't require much technical knowledge, but it does require you to follow simple instructions and be willing to poke around inside your computer. This guide walks you through the basics.
It's helpful to install a second hard drive on desktop PCs. Learn what parts you'll need and the steps for drive installation.