Clean it out before throwing it out - Word&Way

Clean it out before throwing it out

A home stager in California moves homes quicker and for a higher price by depersonalizing online photos to hide sellers’ identities. (See the Pacific Standard article.) This approach is also critical when disposing of electronic and office equipment.

Affinity Health Plan of New York paid $1.2 million in 2013 for a breach of information discovered by a CBS news investigation. It had disposed of a leased photocopier — complete with personal financial records for protentially more than 344,000 people on its hard drive. (

Ken Satterfield

Uncleared computer hard drives can potentially give the next owner access to your personal information.

The same is true for other devices. In 2013, Target’s security was breached through monitoring its air conditioners’ IP address (Internet location).

An animation by security company McAfee shows the many security risks in a typical office (

How can you dispose of devices safely?

Multifunction printers/copiers: Those flexible scan features that make copiers and fax machines so easy to use also make them vulnerable, because information is scanned to a hard drive. (Fortunately, this is not an issue for small desktop printers such as the HP Officejet and Deskjet printers.)

Though manufacturers surveyed say their information is secure (, most, if not all of them, also offer a data security kit for data encryption and deletion. It is worth asking about data security when you buy or lease an MFP. Get that information in writing. Also ask if hard drives in trade-ins are scrubbed or destroyed.

Fax records may include email addresses, phone numbers and transmitted documents. For MFPs connected to a network, stored files or scans and passwords need to be erased.

You have no guarantees about security of MFPs in copy and print stores, so if information is sensitive or personal, beware.

Mobile phones: Consider how much personal and contact information is stored on smartphones.

Antivirus provider Avast tested Android phones wiped by using the factory reset setting. Randomly purchasing 20 Android phones from auction site eBay, they used recovery software to restore more than 40,000 photos, emails, contact information and a loan application.

Android storage techniques often leave a second copy in a different location. Encryption (under Settings > Security) is one security solution, but leads to slower operation. Encryption followed by a factory update is better to erase data. Third-party solutions exist on Google Play; read their declaimers. iPhones have much better built-in security, but require owners to have a password (screen lock) enabled for automatic encryption. Wiping is as easy as Settings > General > Reset.

Digital cameras: Remove the memory card, but also connect it to a computer with a USB cable to delete any files that may be in internal storage.

Gaming console: A good general rule of thumb is to wipe information with a factory reset. Because some have non-removable flash memory, there could still be a risk.

The cloud: Auto upload can copy every picture to the cloud for iCloud, Dropbox or Google+ in case a phone is lost — check your settings. You may also have to manually delete a photo in the cloud that you have deleted off your phone. When in doubt, if you want to keep it private, don’t put it on the cloud.

PCWorld suggests several levels of encryption ( er-sensitive-files-safe-in-the-cloud.html).

With any device, make sure to secure any removable media (DVD, memory stick, Micro SD memory card or SIM card). You may also need to deauthenticate apps ( and software to make a seamless transition to your next device.

Read Consumer Reports’ comprehensive guide to deleting information from devices for step-by-step instructions and details for many media devices listed above (, along with additional links included here.

Ken Satterfield is Word & Way’s advertising coordinator and a former media specialist.

See also:

Copier Data Security: A Guide for Businesses (U.S. Federal Trade Commissions)

Security Alert: Your copier or multifunction printer may be storing your confidential data (TechSoup)

Protecting Sensitive Data – subscription required (Church Law & Tax)