How do I hide the evidence from work?
June 9, 2005 10:37 PM   Subscribe

I am returning a laptop to my employer that I have used exclusively for the last two years. I have used it as a personal machine and need to erase all evidence of my (non-work) use. I have backed up everything that needs to transfer so a clean wipe and re-install would be ok.

Machine details: Dell Latitude, Win XP Pro (SP1), and Office 2003. I do have the Restore disks as well as WinXP Pro and Office 2003 install disks with available registration keys.

I am a mild novice on computer related issues, so explicit detail and/or instructions would be great.
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go here and download the GWScan program. With it you can create a boot floppy and one of the utilities will overwrite your HD with zeros.

Much better than a simple format.
posted by Dagobert at 11:01 PM on June 9, 2005

One better: Boot and Nuke. Overwrites your hard drive with random data - methods with such cool sounding names as "American DoD 5220-22.M Standard Wipe".
posted by Jimbob at 11:09 PM on June 9, 2005

Unless you work for the CIA or NSA, it's hard to imagine that anyone would care enough about it for them to send the hard drive off to be expensively restored/examined just to see what you were up to. Just fdisk-ing and restoring should be sufficient for any sane employer. IIRC you can do all that from the XP boot cd, but I often R incorrectly.

If *I* worked for someone that I honestly thought was nuts enough to want to physically scan the platters to see what I'd been doing with the machine, I wouldn't bother with a software wipe. I'd just buy a new, virgin hard drive for the laptop and install XP onto that -- hard drives are cheap, peace of mind isn't. Then I'd take the old, contaminated-with-secrets drive and I'd put it into a USB housing and keep it for continued nefarious use. Or, if my personal secrets were particularly dark or embarrassing, I'd take the old drive, bash it to pieces, fish out the platters and cut them up with a hammer and chisel, and then heat the chunks-of-platters until they glowed white, or melted into a solid piece of slag.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:39 AM on June 10, 2005

There's a walkthrough of fdisk-and-install here.

Don't worry about patching XP to deal with security issues. Just fdisk-and-reinstall (or install to a new drive) the day before you give the machine back and let them worry about it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:47 AM on June 10, 2005

Here, I mean.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:48 AM on June 10, 2005

Wiping the hard drive is so easy, there's no reason not to do it.
posted by grouse at 2:16 AM on June 10, 2005

If you have ever done anything even once with that computer that could be even slightly embarrassing, wipe the disk. There's always a chance that some dork in IT scans old hard drives to see what naughty things other employees have been up to.

If you choose a method that requires you to boot from a floppy or CD, you need to make the disk (which should be easy).

Then I guess you need to make the machine boot from that disk -- if it keeps booting from the usual hard drive, it will never run the boot disk. If your machine doesn't already check the floppy or CD drive first, there should be a fairly simple way to change the boot order of your disks so that it checks the disk with the wiper program before it runs the operating system from the usual hard drive. Or you could always just delete/destroy the operating system manually, which should force the machine to look for the boot disk with the wiper.

The wiping process should take a long time -- it has to do something like write and erase every bit on your disk seven times to make sure there's no ghost of your data left on the hard drive -- so start it, make sure it's running, and then go to bed.
posted by pracowity at 6:29 AM on June 10, 2005

Do the total wipe, especially because it is such a simple exercise. You just never know what might be there, including credit card or SS numbers that could get found accidentally later on, even after a reformat I have always been partial to BCWipe.
posted by caddis at 6:46 AM on June 10, 2005

i am about to run into the same issue. is there any way to wipe clean without totally starting over? there is a ton of software on here that is owned and controlled by my company that i wouldn't be able to replace.
posted by shminny at 7:45 AM on June 10, 2005

Poster if you can find a copy of gdisk boot from a floppy with it on and use the command: gdisk 1 /del /all /dodwipe

Too late at this point shminny. For future reference what you what to do is take an image of the machine when they give it to you and then copy that image back at the end of your contract. Windows spews data around so much in system areas that there isn't any really good way of being sure of cleaning everything short of a wipe. And a skilled administrator can recover much of what you do delete. That's why people are recommending the wipe or even DOD wipe. I use a Norton Ghost utility for this purpose.

You could always get "infected" by a "trojan" depending on your relationship with the company. Most places with more than a few employees will be imaging the machine before handing it to somebody else anyways so you won't be harming them really.
posted by Mitheral at 8:04 AM on June 10, 2005

shminny, use the East-Tec Eraser, it will at least protect you better than the Recycle Bin will.
posted by banished at 8:12 AM on June 10, 2005

Something no-one has considered yet - don't Dell laptops have some custom drivers, software and stuff (i.e. it's not just a straightforward OS reinstallation procedure)?

Other things to think about - are there any other user accounts on the machine which need to be preserved (e.g. an IT admin account is usually present on most work machines); is there any other business software on there that isn't part of the standard install? Will your work notice if you reinstall the OS with different components selected (e.g. it may be their policy not to install the games, or backdrops, or something).
Are any of the program titles customised? (Internet Explorer is on my employers' machines; this is only a registry setting, but if you don't know how to do it).

Basically, what I'm getting at is that there may be a lot more to the machine than just an OS-and-application reinstall.

Would it be better to backup the drive to another, then do all the format/nuke/whatever, and then replace the backup? I was thinking of a ghost image, but I think that this is a block-level duplication of the entire disk - which will probably carry over the incriminating evidence...
posted by Chunder at 8:37 AM on June 10, 2005

Unless you work for the CIA or NSA, it's hard to imagine that anyone would care enough...
Oh, it's not hard to imagine at all. Plenty of companies employ smarter-than-thou techie children with nothing better to do than snoop through other people's business. I doubt it would be the result of official policy, but it's not unreasonable to think he'd be caught.
I'd just buy a new, virgin hard drive for the laptop and install XP onto that -- hard drives are cheap, peace of mind isn't.
Insightful, yes. But poor advice for someone who characterizes himself as "a mild novice on computer related issues."

As to the question of restoring software: Choose a hypothetical. (1) You're forced to explain that you screwed up the drive, and all the software needs to be reinstalled. (2) You're forced to explain why you downloaded pornography, pirated movies and music, and proprietary secrets.
posted by cribcage at 8:54 AM on June 10, 2005

Eraser is Windows freeware that will overwrite deleted files. If wiping the drive isn't an option (see Boot and Nuke recommendation, above,) use it, but definitely do one or the other.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:12 AM on June 10, 2005

Does anybody have any recommendations on doing something similar with a Mac? I'm going to be selling my old iBook and want to thoroughly trash my bank records and whatnot before handing it off to a stranger.
posted by catesbie at 11:29 AM on June 10, 2005

anonymous - try bcwipe.

catesbie - I asked almost the same question here.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:28 PM on June 10, 2005

Does anybody have any recommendations on doing something similar with a Mac?
posted by cribcage at 4:34 PM on June 10, 2005

Does anybody have any recommendations on doing something similar with a Mac?

Disk Utility, comes with the machine.
posted by kindall at 5:49 PM on June 10, 2005

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