Help me disappear!
April 19, 2012 5:16 PM   Subscribe

How to erase all traces of me on my work computer?

I am leaving my job, and my computer (an ancient PC running XP) will likely be be passed along to another staff member, who will need to use a lot of the programs I have on it now.

So I don't think I want to do something drastic like DBAN, as this question suggested.

How can I efficiently make sure that all my stored passwords are removed and documents are permanently deleted?
posted by lulu68 to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
There's really no good way to ensure that your personal info is gone from the computer unless you wipe it.
posted by killdevil at 5:27 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have admin privileges on your computer?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:28 PM on April 19, 2012

Best answer: IT really should reset everything with a fresh image of the OS with applications, etc. But, If they don't, the best thing you can do is to make sure all of your files are off the computer by doing a search for the extension for all the document types you use (examples: .doc, database extensions, .pdf, >jpg, etc.). Run a good cleaner like CCleaner that will eliminate stray artifacts from your prior use. Use Ccleaners "free space wipe" so nothing of yours can be undeleted. In Ccleaner there is an option when you select the browsers, to eliminate stored passwords (it's not selected by default - so you need to check the box).
posted by Gerard Sorme at 5:29 PM on April 19, 2012

To be safe, I tend to just uninstall programs where I have saved data: Firefox, IM programs, etc.

On Windows I believe the uninstaller will nuke all saved data about the program as well. That and deleting all my files and emptying the recycle bin are good enough unless the CIA gets called in, IMO.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:31 PM on April 19, 2012

BTW, I agree with killdevil that you can't be 100% certain without a complete wipe. But it sounds like your employer is expecting the next user to use the same programs on your old PC and they may no longer have the original set-up files. Weigh the risks. Only you know how sensitive something "left behind" could be.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 5:32 PM on April 19, 2012

Best answer: ok, so I've been through this one before from the IT side of the equation, and I've got to warn you: before doing ANYTHING of the sort, get written permission from your boss, because it's not "your" work computer. Instead, it is your employer's, and what you're talking about doing is removing your employer's documents from their computer before you leave, and potentially denying your employer access to the documents which you were presumably paid to produce on the computer which they provided you. If your employer is the vindictive sort or you're leaving on bad terms, I REALLY REALLY would think twice about doing this, as people have been arrested or sued for less than that in the past.

Even if you're absolutely sure that all your work-related documents have been properly archived to pass on to your replacement, the first time something can't be found you could find yourself in a whole world of shit - so don't make it look like you were hiding something on your way out the door.

With that having been said, CCleaner is pretty good for a selective perma-delete like you're describing.
posted by deadmessenger at 5:34 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're able to just isolate stuff to documents and known files, Eraser works really well. But it doesn't seek out everything in all the nooks and crannies like other methods.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:41 PM on April 19, 2012

This is not even slightly true.

True. Some applications will even go so far to hide the location of your data to make re-installation easy in the future.

To delete data without nuking the drives, you would have to use something like CCleaner to delete the data and Eraser to Erase Unused Space to make sure the data cannot be re-discovered using forensics tool. Using Eraser to do this usually takes many many hours and the process can be interrupted for a number of reasons, so it might fail anyways. If you are paranoid and want to evaluate the level of re-discoverability (is this even a word?), you could use a undelete application such as NTFS Undelete or Recuva. If these don't show anything you are reasonably safe.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:57 PM on April 19, 2012

You can't, nor should you. It's not your machine, really. Delete your browser history and any personal files you don't want shared, that's it. The rest belongs to your employer.
posted by mhoye at 9:20 PM on April 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everybody.

Gerard: In truth this is likely what will happen. Or, this PC will get tossed - after being wiped by IT - as it is so old and slow.

deadmessenger: You are absolutely right. I'm leaving on good terms, and I've already backed up all my work files and passed them along to my boss (I'm not deleting any work files). Nothing on my work PC is sensitive per se, but for example I am always logged in to personal email, work email and metafilter, and have some photos that have ended up on this PC over the years. I'd just like to make sure all this stuff comes with me.
posted by lulu68 at 5:00 AM on April 20, 2012

Every time I delete my cookies with CCleaner, I have to re-log into websites. That should be sufficient.

Delete all your favorites too, those links could possibly contain information.
posted by gjc at 5:31 AM on April 20, 2012

DBAN. This is what I always use.
posted by white_devil at 11:53 AM on April 20, 2012

Opps. Missed that you didn't want DBAN. I used to run IT and we'd always install a fresh image for new users of existing machines. The only thing is depending on the size of the organization and what line of business they are in there could be pending lawsuits that require IT to take you existing hard drive and store it for a period of time or forward to corporate legal for archival.
posted by white_devil at 11:57 AM on April 20, 2012

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