The Paranoid Person’s Guide to Effectively Removing ALL Your Data Before Selling Your Device

Are you in the market for a new phone or computer? Perhaps you are one of those people who just always needs to have the latest thing (good luck with that) or maybe you genuinely need a phone or computer with bigger and better specs. Or maybe your kid dropped your phone and now your precious screen is shattered in a million pieces. Whatever the case, buying a new device can be a lot of fun if this is your sort of thing. (And If you hate this sort of thing, hire the teenage boy from next door to find something – he definitely knows what he is talking about!)

As exciting as it can be to shop around for new tech, there are a few things to keep in mind when you trash your old device. Who doesn’t have a stack of older smartphones sitting on a shelf somewhere in their house? And remember when you upgraded to your latest Lenovo and sold your HP at your annual garage sale, right next to the lemonade and 20 year-old bar stools? Both bad ideas to be sure – that is unless you made sure all traces of data were obliterated before selling it or leaving it on the shelf for your six year-old to stick in her backpack and trade away at lunch for a baggie full of pretzels – true story!

Again, assuming you’re tech savvy, you may already know how important it is to wipe your devices before you sell, donate or otherwise dispose of them. But not everybody knows how important it is and even people who should know better often get caught up in the excitement around their newer, shinier toy and caution goes out the window.

Factory reset doesn’t cut it

Noted security expert Robert Siciliano discussed the importance of wiping devices properly with the LA Times. He found that after buying 30 pre-owned smartphones and laptops off of Craigslist, some had been restored to factory settings and others had not been wiped at all. One seller asked Siciliano to log him out of his Gmail account if he was still in. Ouch. In the end, he was able to extract sensitive from half of the devices, which included bank and credit card information, social security numbers, website logins and other information.

If you sell your devices and don’t wipe the information off of them first, well, tough luck, buddy. But how about all the
techie-esqe people who had wiped their information by using factory reset settings? No fair!

Here is the thing – resetting to factory settings is great for those times when you just want to start from scratch on your device or when it’s recommended protocol if you suspect you have a particularly nasty kind of malware running on your smartphone and don’t mind losing all your stored information. But that’s not going to cut it when it comes to keeping your information out of the hands of criminals. Sure, factory resets seem to make all your old information go poof!, but the reality is that the disappearance is only application layer-deep, leaving all your old information there in the recesses of the device’s memory. With the proper tools and know-how, extracting that information isn’t hard at all.

Here is how to actually remove all your data from your smart phones and laptops

No matter what kind of device you’re trying to wipe, the first thing you need to do is backup your information to something like your Google Drive account or another cloud storage provider. It’s a smart thing to do anyway so go to it! Also it’s a good idea to make sure you have all the serial numbers of software you are planning on transferring to your new device – so you can reinstall there.

How to wipe your laptop:

If you are running Windows 10:

  • Download a data wiping tool like Parted Magic. Top Ten has a thourough comparison of data wiping, or sanitizing software so pick the one you like best from there.
  • Load the wiping software you chose onto a CD or flash drive and boot straight to it. Each program has its own wiping procedure so follow the program’s instructions.
  • When the program is done doing its thing, reinstall a fresh copy of Windows 10. Then sell the darn thing!
  • How to wipe your Android phone:

  • Encrypt your data. This doesn’t get rid of everything but it makes it much harder for an ill-intentioned person to access any traces of what might be left on your phone. To do this go to Settings –>Security → Encrypt. Then every time you turn on your phone you’ll need to enter a pin or password to decrypt. But in this case, you’re selling it so don’t
    worry about that.
  • Reset to factory settings.
  • For the more paranoid among us, suggests two additional security measures

  • Fill your phone with dummy data. Put in fake contacts and pictures. Hey, at least you can have fun with this part.
  • Reset, yet again to factory settings and erase all that fake data you just put in. This will essentially bury any traces of your real information under an additional layer of fake traces of data.
  • If you have an iPhone, Apple makes it really neat and easy to wipe it thoroughly. Just follow their instructions, and you should be a-okay.

    Now you are ready to sell or donate your phone. But if you’re truly paranoid, just forget the whole thing and stick your phone in your Vitamix blender. Or give it to a six year-old, you know the same one who was going to trade it for a bag of pretzels, along with a hammer, some glue and colorful sequins and tell her to have fun. Both of those should do the trick to making sure your information is permanently gone. If you go the six year-old route, at least you’ll have a beautiful piece of “device artwork” to hang up on your wall.

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