Information Security Central - January 2017

​​Coming out of the holidays, some of you might have new computers, mobile devices, or other gadgets. From a security perspective, this means two things: Securing your new device and securely disposing of your old device. 

Securely erasing and disposing of your computer, phone, or tablet


We'll start with computers, which are a bit more conventional to backup and securely wipe.

  1. First, always make sure to back up any data you don't want to lose. Once you securely wipe your hard drive, there's no going back.
    1. OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, or an external hard drive are all viable solutions here.
    2. Using more than one of these is even better!
  2. Once your files are backed up (and you've triple-checked to make sure), it's time to securely wipe  your hard drive.
    1. Download and boot into formatting software like Darik's Boot and Nuke or one of many others
    2. Choose the level of security for the wipe, ideally something DoD-level or stricter.
    3. Wait for the operation to complete. Very secure formatting will wipe the drive, overwrite it with random data, then wipe it again, continuing this process until complete. This may take some time.
  3. If you're unable to wipe your hard drive, removing or destroying it is a perfectly fine alternative.
    1. This one's more for those of you who are comfortable tinkering, so we'll leave the particulars of researching your particular computer's hard drive location to you.
    2. If you received a new set of power tools as a gift, what better use for that new drill press than to run a few holes through some computer hardware? Don’t forget your safety glasses!
    3. Or you can always just remove the hard drive and stick it in that box of miscellany in the corner of your basement. Chances are you'll never use it, but you'll at least know that your data is safe.


Phones and other devices have fewer options but are simpler overall.

  1. Prior to using the factory reset option, make sure to enable full device encryption; this will ensure that, even if someone is able to recover your data, they won't be able to access it.
    1. Android: Check with your manufacturer's instructions
    2. iPhone: Go into your Settings and lock your device with a password or PIN. That's it!
  2. Reset your device to factory settings
    1. Android varies but is typically under Settings > Backup and Restore
    2. iOS: Just go to Settings > General > Reset.



Once you've securely erased the data from your device, you have a number of options for disposal. Many computer hardware or office supply outlets will accept devices for disposal for free, but a friendlier option can be to donate your old devices to an organization like Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity. Some of them will even take non-working devices just for the parts, to refurbish, or to simply turn around for whatever value they can, so consider donating them to charity if this is an option for you.


Tips for making your new device secure

​This part's a bit more straightforward; we just have some general tips for making sure that your devices are as secure as possible.


  • Windows Defender is a built-in antivirus system for Windows machines. It's lightweight and powerful, so you don't necessarily need to purchase separate antivirus software if you're running Windows.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Macs are not immune to viruses. Luckily, Avast offers a free antivirus program that we recommend you use.
  • Consider turning on disk encryption--but do note that it's VERY important that you don't forget your password, or you will no longer be able to access your files
  • Make sure to enable automatic updates--and don't put them off when the update prompt appears!