Everyday Tips from the ComputerMom 

January 2017
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Happy New Year! I hope you all had a lovely holiday season. I certainly did, enjoying a very relaxing vacation, and then a flurry of holiday activities and family visits. If I missed any of your calls or emails in December, please accept my apologies!

I would guess that many of you acquired some nice, shiny, new technology. New tech is fun, but it comes with a built in problem - what to do with the old tech it's replacing. How do you safely hand it down, donate it, sell it, or recycle it? It all depends on the type and age of the tech, so this month's newsletter explores some of your options.

Here's to a healthy and prosperous 2017!

Julie Marto 

Old to new computer
What to do with your old PC

Getting a zippy new system is always fun, but what should you do with your old computer? I do a lot of system migrations, especially at this time of year, and often prepare old systems for disposal as part of that service. However, for the do-it-yourselfer out there, and for those of you who might be helping relatives, here's what you need to consider.

Even if you don't think there's much of value on your old computer, there are privacy considerations to keep in mind. You almost certainly have stored login information to your email or financial sites. Your tax records, date of birth, social security number, and other personal data could be stored on there in multiple different applications. And even if the drive seems dead, or you format the drive, it's easy for someone with the right software to recover your information. Truthfully, computer system disposal is the one time it makes sense to be paranoid!

Preparing a system for disposal:

If your old computer is no longer working, or has an unsupported operating system, the answer is simple. Remove the hard drive and recycle the rest. Once you have the hard drive out of the computer there is no danger in disposing of the system. The drive is where all your data is, and you should either hold onto it (in case you need to recover data from it) or destroy it (by literally taking a power drill to the drive to break up the disks inside). The rest of the system should be recycled to reuse any usable components, recover valuable metals and rare earths, and to keep toxic materials out of the landfills. Check with your town for electronics recycling days - for example, Medfield takes electronics the first Saturday of the each month between 9 and 2. Your town might charge a small fee.

If you'd prefer, I can handle the whole disposal process of a desktop or laptop for you, for $35.00 per system. That includes removing and destroying the hard drive, and delivering the system to a recycling facility. Just give me a call if you have any old computers you need to dispose of.

Preparing a system for reuse:

If you plan to give your old system to a close relative, you don't need to be as concerned about your personal data. The simplest (yet least secure) method to hand over a system is to simply create a new administrative user account for your relative, and delete your existing account and all of its data. This is an easy way to hand down a computer to a child or a parent. However, you should keep in mind that your data is still recoverable - when it's ultimately time to retire the computer, take out the drive and destroy it as described above!

If you want to be more secure than that, you can do a factory reset.  Starting with Windows 7, every computer manufacturer was required to create a built in recovery partition, which restores the computer to its factory settings. Some of those recovery partitions will even destroy your data for you, but most of them don't. Here's how to access the recovery partitions for Dell, HP, and Lenovo. However, I don't consider a factory reset to be a secure enough erasure to hand the computer over to anybody other than family.

If you want to sell or donate your system, you will want to securely erase the hard drive prior to reinstalling the operating system. This is a bigger job than you might expect, and requires several steps. First of all, you need to have media to reinstall the operating system - this generally means creating a set of "recovery disks" using the tools provided by the manufacturer. You will also need a way to securely destroy the data on the drive. This is done with software that writes zeros onto every part of the drive in multiple passes - it takes hours to complete. I use a program called DBAN Boot and Nuke to do this, although there are other alternatives. Once you have the software in hand, it's just a matter of finding the time to run the hard drive wiping program, and then the installation media. You should expect the entire process to take place over a day or two, mostly unattended. 

I follow a variation of this process (I also install all Windows updates, an antivirus, and several other basic software programs) as a flat rate service if you wish to outsource preparing the system for reuse. And of course, I follow this protocol at no charge when one of my clients generously donates a usable system for a new home. 
Disposing of Phones and Tablets

Unlike computer systems, all phone and tablet manufacturers assume you will eventually cease using their devices (preferably to upgrade) and will need to dispose of the phone securely. So every phone and tablet comes with a built in method to securely restore the device to factory settings. Whether you are giving your old phone to a family member, trading it in, selling it, donating it, or recycling it, you need to do a factory reset prior to handing it over. Here are the steps to follow:

iPad or iPhone - Due to issues with stolen Apple devices, you need to know your Apple ID and password to restore an iPad or iPhone to factory.  If you don't know your Apple ID password, you might need to change it by going to Manage My Apple ID and answering the security questions. Once you have your Apple ID and password you need to go to Settings and log out of iCloud, turn off Find My Device, and delete any email accounts

When all of that is done, follow these steps to restore the iPhone or iPad to factory settings.

Android phone or tablet - An Android device is easier to reset as you don't need to disassociate the ID, however the built in Android reset is not as secure as the Apple method. If you want to do it right, you should follow these steps to encrypt your device prior to resetting it. As far as resetting is concerned, each device is slightly different, but the general approach is the same - you go to settings and choose factory reset

If your device won't boot - If you can no longer boot your Apple device, here are some options to wipe it. If your Android device is no longer booting, you can try a factory reset from recovery mode. And if you have a device I haven't mentioned, do a Google search to find out how to wipe it before disposal - even that old flip phone has data on it you don't want in the wrong hands!