How to properly dispose of electronic devices

You might already have heard of the term ‘electronic waste‘ and the damage it does to the environment. This article is not about the waste and damages to earth. Rather, it focuses on the security of your data. That means, when you throw away an old phone, it is not safe for you even if you have deleted all data on the old device manually. Let’s look deeper into what I mean when I say how to dispose of electronic devices properly.

dispose of electronic devices

Types of electronic devices

  • Computers and phones – electronic devices that can use a processor and an operating system to automatically or manually store data inside them fall into this category
  • Digital Media – an example could be digital cameras and mp3 players. Any device that contain multimedia content such as music and images etc. artifacts fall into this category
  • Peripheral Devices – these are the devices that are used by other electronic parts to extend their functionality. Examples are an external hard disk, SD Cards, USB Sticks, and similar things
  • Gaming Devices – Electronic or digital devices capable of sending data over wired or wireless connections for controlling any other electronic device
  • Other devices – Electronic devices that are used for entertainment or home appliances fall into this category; they too contain some information that they may have collected over time. Example of this category devices are – Smart TVs, a connected coffee maker, and similar things. These too, need to be sanitized so that your data does not fall into other people’s hands.

Did you delete all data securely from your discarded device?

Taking a Windows 10 tablet as an example, one might perform a software reset and assume that they have deleted all data properly from the phone. It is not the case. The data simply deleted from the device is readily available for recovery. All it requires is a good data recovery tool.

Even if a person deletes a phone contents manually by connecting it to a computer or simply deletes items one by one, it still is not safe. That kind of deletions can be undone, and data can always be restored (read) by the person who takes over the discarded device using data recovery tools. This could lead to security concerns when the supposedly deleted data contains information such as credit card information, house address, etc.

How to dispose of electronic devices

There are certain methods to remove data from electronic devices based on how you dispose them.

If you are giving away any computer or similar electronic device to someone else or any institution, you need to “sanitize” the device before it leaves your hand. There are different methods to dispose of electronic devices or to sanitize them. Some of them are mentioned below.

  1. Use hard reset for securely erasing of mobile phones and tablets. More than often, the combination to initiate a hard reset is to press the Power and Lower Volume button at the same time. If that does not work, you can go to phone settings and use the reset option there. The Settings > Factory reset method may not be dependable though as we won’t know how securely data was deleted using that command. It changes among different brands.
  2. Using some software like Microsoft Surface Data Eraser to securely wipe off the data from computers, phones, tablets, and other electronics such as Digital Cameras, and Walkman. Almost every device can be connected to a laptop or a PC so that secure erase software may be used on them.
  3. Some software offer to write over the existing data so that the entire storage becomes unreadable. Some delete the existing data and rewrite random characters all over the storage place of the electronic devices
  4. There are several freeware that will let you delete files permanently. Microsoft has recommended KillDisk and DP Wiper on its page explaining how to dispose of old computers. You may also use other free encryption tools.
  5. Physical destruction of storage devices is also an option if you think that the data on the hard disk drive or phone card is valuable. If the data on your phone or computer can reveal secrets about you and you are not satisfied with disk wipe software, physical destruction of the data is a good option. Physically damage the hard disk drive or phones, tablets, etc., until you are sure that the data is beyond recovery.
  6. Other electronic devices like smart TVs or coffee makers should be reset to factory condition before being discarded; if you feel data on those devices is too important, you might consider physically destroying the devices

The above states how to destroy data before you dispose of electronic devices that belonged to you so that the data on their storage devices is irrecoverable.

Dispose of electronic devices – The environmental factor

We had already written on this topic of how the computer and electronic devices can pollute both land and air, very often, making them unusable. For details, please read E-Waste Problem, Hazards and Solutions.

Make sure you check both factors – data destruction, and environmental hazard – before you dispose of electronic devices.

Related read: How to Securely and Safely dispose of old Computers.

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Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN

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