Is it time for you to get a new computer, tablet or smartphone? If so, you're probably going to sell or give away your old one.
Hold on for a second, you might be giving away your sensitive personal data. Deleting files and using the Recycle Bin just isn't good enough. The information you delete can still be hanging around on your hard drive.
That means almost anyone with a little know-how can recover it with a simple and free program. The only way to completely secure your gadget is to wipe its hard drive.
With that in mind, we're going to tell you how to wipe the data from Android and Apple gadgets as well as PCs and Macs.
The terms wipe, shred, delete and erase are often used as if they're interchangeable - but they shouldn't be, because they're not. For example, you don't have to erase a file just because you deleted it. And you can erase a drive without wiping it, or wipe files that have already been deleted. It can be a bit confusing.
We will begin with how to wipe Android gadgets.
1. Encrypt your gadget's data
Are you familiar with encryption? It's not just for protecting secret government documents and confidential business files. You can actually encrypt all of the data in your gadget, and it's a necessary step in wiping it securely.
To do this, you'll need your trusty gadget, its charger and about an hour. Plug your gadget in, go to your "Settings" page. Then Security >> Screen Lock or Encrypt Device, depending on your device.
You'll be prompted to create a unique password or lock PIN, and that's completely normal. This is to allow you to perform an encryption. Write this password down, as you may need it later. Just be aware that once you encrypt your Android gadget, there's no going back.
You'll see a progress bar appear after you agree to the encryption terms. This process can take about an hour, and you don't want to interrupt it. Doing so can permanently damage your gadget.
You'll be alerted once the process is complete, and then it's time to move on to the next phase.
2. Remove memory card
The next step is physically removing your memory card if you have one. Most people forget these are even in their gadgets after they put it in when they first get their phones.
Just in case you weren't aware, many Android gadgets let you plug in a memory card to expand the storage space. Memory cards range in storage size and keep videos, photos, music and documents on your smartphone without slowing it down.
The memory card is generally located under the back plastic plating and it's a small, removable square like the one seen above.
You can take this external memory card and use it in your next smartphone or you can get rid of it forever. Just make sure to break it in half if you do decide to get rid of it, that way it can never be accessed again.
3. Factory reset
When you finish the steps listed above, you can initiate a factory reset. To do this, go to Settings >> Backup & reset >> Factory data reset. This will erase all of the data and take your gadget back to the settings that were on it when initially purchased.
You'll need the charger for this part, too. Factory resets can eat up a battery in a flash and you want to make sure that the reset executed completely to avoid damaging the Android.
Only do this when you're totally ready to get rid of the phone. You can't reverse a factory reset; all of your contacts, photos, videos, calls and texts will be erased forever.
Once the factory reset is complete, you can feel secure selling or trading in your Android gadget.
1. Back up your data
Before you do anything, you want to make sure you aren't going to lose your data, so be sure to back up your gadget. You can do this through iCloud or iTunes.
To back up with iCloud, get on a Wi-Fi network and go to Settings >> iCloud >> Backup. Turn on iCloud Backup and then tap Back Up Now. After the backup is done, go to Settings >> iCloud >> Storage >> Manage Storage to make sure it really did back up.
To back up to iTunes on your computer, plug your gadget into your computer. Open iTunes and go to Files >> Devices >> Transfer Purchases. This will save any purchases you made directly on your gadget.
Then go to File >> Devices >> Backup and select "This computer" and click "Back Up Now."
Once your backup is complete, you want to disconnect your gadget from iCloud so the next owner can't get into your data. To do this, go to Settings >> iCloud and tap Sign Out at the bottom of the screen. You'll need to tap Sign Out one more time, then tap Delete from My iPhone. It will ask for your password.
If you have an older gadget running iOS 7 or earlier, in Settings >> iCloud you'll need to tap Delete Account.
2. Delete your data
Once you're disconnected, it's time to get rid of your content.
Go to Settings >> General >> Reset >> Erase All Content and Settings. This will wipe out everything on your phone.
Depending on your settings, you might have to enter your Apple ID and password, your device passcode or your Restrictions passcode. Once that's done, tap Erase and wait a few minutes for it to finish.
Take a quick glance through the gadget to make sure everything is really gone. Then you're ready to sell or give it away.
If you've already sold or given away the gadget and realized you didn't wipe it, don't panic. Go to icloud.com/find, select your gadget and choose Erase. Then select Remove from Account.
If you aren't using iCloud with your gadget, then things are a bit more complicated. You'll want to contact the new owner and have them do a full reset using the instructions above.
Apple Pay users will want to go into the iCloud Apple Pay settings and make sure the old gadget is removed from the list of approved gadgets. You don't want the new person charging groceries to your cards, after all.
Macs with older operating systems
For anyone who's using an older operating system, like Yosemite, you can securely delete files from the Trash Can in just a few steps.
Go to your Finder menu and select "Secure Empty Trash." Doing this will essentially shred your files before they're deleted. In the world of computers, "shredding" just means that your files will be overwritten with random code so that if they're ever recovered the original code can't be reassembled.
El Capitan and higher
For newer versions of Mac's OS, this built-in feature of the Trash Can was actually removed. However, you can still get this functionality by using a little trick. Just follow these steps:
- Open your Launch Pad.
- Click on the Other folder.
- Click on Terminal.
- In the command prompt, type: srm -v. Be sure to leave a space after the v. (Note: srm stands for "secure remove").
- Drag and drop the file you'd like to delete.
When MacOS Sierra was released, Apple switched things up again and removed the secure delete option for both the Trash Can and the Terminal.
To shred files you'd like to remove from Mac Sierra, you'll need to use a shredding app. An app called Secure Delete - File Shredder works well; however, it does cost $4.99 to download.
FileShredder is another option, and it also costs $4.99 to download.
The best way to wipe the hard drive of a PC is to use erasure software. We recommend Darik's Boot And Nuke (DBAN).
DBAN will wipe and overwrite your drive several times so nothing is recoverable. It secures your personal information by making it impossible for anyone to recover the deleted information from your old computer.
To use DBAN, download the file and burn it to a blank CD or DVD. If you have any questions, visit the site's FAQ http://www.dban.org/faq for answers. Once the disc is done, boot your computer from it.
To boot from a disc drive, hold down the F8 key while your computer is starting. This brings up the boot menu. Then select to boot from your CD or DVD drive. Once DBAN starts, follow the directions.
DBAN securely wipes out the entire hard drive. When it's finished, the computer won't even have Windows. Then you can safely discard, sell or recycle the computer.