Clean out Old Computers Before Selling/Donating
A 1997 article in the New York Times ("Patient Files
Turn Up in Used Computer," 4/4/97, John Markoff) describes how C.J. Prime,
of San Franciscio, booted up the used IBM computer she purchased at an auction
and found 2,000 patient records from Smitty's Supermarkets pharmacy in Tempe,
Arizona. Included were "prescriptions for AZT for AIDS patients, Antabuse
for alchoholics as well as numerous antidepressants." Prime speculates
that with the software left installed on the computer, she might have been able
to connect to the pharmacy's main office and change coverage or create new prescriptions.
When selling or donating old computers, be sure to remove any
sensitive data, and make sure that by leaving any commercial software on the
machine you are not violating the terms of any software license agreements.
Note that files deleted through ordinary means (e.g. dragging to the trash on
Windows or Macintosh) can usually be recovered. Use a secure file deletion utility
which ensures that the data can not be recovered by successively writing binary
ones and zeros over files to be deleted (See Note below).
Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) includes
a secure delete function and Norton Utilities' Wipe Info feature will also securely delete files.
In recent years it has become a popular practice to sell used (but still functional) hard drives via online "auction" sites like
eBay. Before disposing of hard drives in this or any other manner in which one or more subsequent owners of the drive will have access to any data remaining on the drives,
it is essential that the drive(s) be wiped clean of data as mentioned above. There are many, many reported and confirmed instances of sensitive data found on drives purchased through eBay.
Under existing law, the purchaser of a second-hand drive owns not only the drive itself, but also any data on the drive. If you improperly dispose of a drive in a way that
permits sensitive data to fall into the hands of someone who exploits it for their own purposes, you will likely have little or no legal recourse.
DO NOT SIMPLY THROW AWAY "DEAD" DRIVES. The platters can be removed from non-functional drives and all data retrieved. Before disposing of drives that no longer work,
DESTROY THE PLATTERS. A large hammer comes in handy for this, though some find more satisfaction in drilling completely through the drive casing with a large (1/2 inch or larger) bit.
The same advice applies to storage media like computer tapes,
disks, diskettes, etc. Be sure to completely remove any sensitive information
before disposing of electronic storage media. University Archives and Records
offers a standard service for secure destruction of confidential electronic
records. For further details, see http://www.archives.upenn.edu/urc/urc.html
If you need further help finding tools or services to do this, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before transferring computers containing any software,
first make sure that Penn is properly licensed to transfer it, that it was not
obtained illegally or in violation of license terms, and that the software was
never copied illegally or in violation of license terms. Also, make sure that
the transfer conforms with terms of the software license. For instance, the
license for Microsoft Office Version 4.21 include this clause:
"Software Transfer: You may permanently transfer
all of your rights under this EULA, provided you retain no copies, you transfer
all of the SOFTWARE PRODUCT (including all component parts, the media and
printed materials, any upgrades, this EULA, and, if applicable, the Certificate
of Authenticity), and the recipient agrees to the terms of this EULA. If the
SOFTWARE PRODUCT is an upgrade, any transfer must include all prior versions
of the SOFTWARE PRODUCT"
The only way to be sure the transfer complies with all licenses
is to read them all. For software licenses with "transfer" clauses
like above, have the recipient(s) acknowledge in writing their acceptance of
the terms of the license, and their receipt of all materials required by the
license. It's important to consider licensing issues not only for application
software like Word and Excel, but also for operating system software like MacOS
There are, however, problems with the conventional secure deletion method of
overwriting binary ones and zeros. Someone with technical knowledge and
access to specialized equipment may be able to recover data from files deleted
with this method. Use of magnets (degaussing) or physical destruction
may be required for especially sensitive data, but be sure that such procedures
conform to published standards for secure data destruction. For further
details, see Peter Guttman's paper "Secure Deletion of Data from Magnetic
and Solid-State Memory"
If you have questions about secure deletion procedures,
contact Penn Information Security at email@example.com.
Last updated: Wednesday, January 3, 2007