I’m about to give my six-year-old Windows XP computer to a friend. Short of reformatting the hard drive, is there any way to expunge my identity—my name, for instance, automatically supplied to certain forms—from the nooks and crannies of the machine? Is there software to restore a system to “pre-ownership” state?
Some people go as far as removing the old hard drive and installing a new one to make absolutely sure that none of their personal information resurfaces on the computer, but there are other ways to prepare the machine for departure.
Leave no clues: Reformatting is not the answer.
Most computers come with either a copy of the Windows software or a manufacturer’s “recovery” disc that contains its version of Windows and all of the programs that originally came with the PC when you took it out of the box. You can typically use these discs to reformat and reinstall a fresh, unsullied copy of Windows on the PC.
But reformatting the drive usually does not erase the data on it. Bits of personal information can still reside on the drive. Using a utility program to thoroughly wipe the drive is a good idea if you want to make sure your personal data stays personal, no matter who ends up with the computer.
Eraser (www.heidi.ie/eraser) and Darik’s Nuke and Boot (dban.sourceforge.net) are free utility programs that erase your information. Commercial programs like WipeDrive (www.whitecanyon.com) will also do the job. When you give the machine away, passing along the recovery discs, manuals and original CDs for any other programs on the computer will help your friend.
©2008/The New York Times
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