Help me get my work laptop ready for return.
December 19, 2012 12:10 PM   Subscribe

As my current job ends, should I scrub my laptop? And if so, how?

I recently got a new job (yay!). My old job and I are ending on good terms. My job (both current and future) is a full-time telecommuting one, so that means I'm primarily using a work-supplied HP Elitebook. As this job winds down, I'm going to need to send back the laptop, obviously, although it's still being debated whether it will be sent to my boss (who is also off-site) or back to the kids in the IT department at our corporate HQ.

I've been mostly good about keeping non-work-related stuff off of here, but on occasion I've done freelance stuff in a pinch, although always during off hours. I haven't installed any games, but I definitely have an active online life that includes MetaFilter, Facebook, Twitter, and various Gmail accounts.

I don't think they'll be exploring the bowels of this machine to find any wrongdoing, because again, leaving on good terms, but at the same time I want to make sure that any and all personal stuff, such as bookmarks, browsing history, cookies, cache, personal file links, Dropbox folders, etc. are gone from this machine, without affecting my actual work files, which are important to preserve since this might be going to my boss who will need access to that stuff. The nature of my job means I mostly work in MS Word and Acrobat, some PowerPoint, a tiny bit of Excel, and then use some online sources for cloud-based filesharing and collaboration.

What is the most efficient way to go about this? Is there a single utility that can selectively scrub certain directories? I fully anticipate uninstallling Firefox completely, but beyond that, I'm a little vague. Ideally, I'd love someone to provide a list of things I should take care of before returning the machine.
posted by shiu mai baby to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Here's an article on Lifehacker that should get you started.

I'm sure some real hackers will have other stuff.

Before sending it in, I'd defrag the hard-drive.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:23 PM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh wow, that Lifehacker article is perfect. Thank you.
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:25 PM on December 19, 2012

This may be coming from somewhere where it is important to sanitize data, but I usually do the inverse: Store everything that is required to external storage, hopefully duplicated, and then format drive. The issue is that programs like to leave parts of themselves in various directories. They will sometimes delete on uninstall, sometimes they won't.

If I was going to keep the OS intact, I would create an entirely new user account, copy what I needed to it, and delete the old user account. Make it something like bossname and make the password simple enough to write on a post it note or email to give to your boss.

I would also suggest making a archive copy on a DVD of the important files anyway. In most IT shops I've been to, the first thing they do on receiving a new machine is format the hard drive in it to a standardized build. This is mostly because if people are careless with what they install, the process of removing spyware and adware will take longer than nuking it from orbit, just to be sure. While they may not do so under orders from your superiors, it takes no time at all to slick a machine, and I could easily see an accident happening. You could give him the DVD with the laptop.
posted by zabuni at 12:32 PM on December 19, 2012

And looking at the lifehacker article, that sounds about right, I especially like the buddy up with IT part. If it goes to them first, you need to know what they will do with it.
posted by zabuni at 12:34 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Purchase a new hard disk and install it; keep the old drive. Purchase a $15 cable to read your old files. If you need to deliver work files to your old boss, do it via thumb drive or online.
posted by at at 2:58 PM on December 19, 2012

To get extreme, wipe everything and send it back to them unformatted and let them reinstall what they need. Put Ubuntu on a USB stick, boot it up, and run shred on the laptop's built-in drive to make all the data unrecoverable.
posted by wdenton at 3:40 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Depending on your company, you might find yourself in hot water. I work IT for a large company in one of the satellite legal offices. Every laptop/desktop that's done being used gets stored for legal reasons. If someone turned in their laptop on their last day (along with their prox badge and blackberry) and it had either swapped hardware or a wiped drive, I'd be taking it along with them to management so they can explain, on the record, why they did that and ask them to write down as best as they could the contents of the workstation.

Then again, we have a very detailed information policy because merely deleting data whenever you want is a no-no.

Regardless, before you do anything, you'll definitely want to double check what your company's rules are first and foremost.
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:54 PM on December 19, 2012

Yeah, agreeing with Brian Puccio. You can't completely wipe the thing. It's the company's laptop, and (presumably) the company's copy of Windows, the company's copy of Office, etc etc. You should hand it back in as close as possible to the state it was in when it was given to you.
posted by Diag at 3:05 AM on December 20, 2012

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