Help me help myself
July 8, 2006 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm dropping my laptop off for service--what do I need to do to protect myself?

This is the first time I've ever handed a computer off to someone else to fix--it is a mechanical issue with a laptop hinge that is better left to a professional. So, off she goes.

I hate to be overly paranoid about this, but I don't like the idea of sending off my computer that has quite a bit of personal information hidden in various spots. It seems like dropping your car off at the mechanic with your social security card in the glove compartment. I'd hope that no one would exploit me--but I'd rather not find out the hard way.

I've gone through my browsers and deleted the cache, passwords, etc. Is there anything else I should make sure I do before the machine leaves my hands?

(FYI: I don't have anything incriminating on my machine, just your standard personal-business-account number-etc. sort of things).
posted by divka to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
You can create a Truecrypt partition for sensitive documents. But that might be something to consider in the future, I certainly wouldn't scramble to do it now. People that work on computers are exposed to that kind of thing all the time and nothing comes of it. Unless you're using some random guy working out of the back of a van they are professionals and I wouldn't be too worried.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:09 AM on July 8, 2006

If you are sending to anyone related to the retailer or manufacturer of the laptop, take out the hard drive and keep that, sending the rest, else you're liable to get back a reconditioned machine with a fresh hard drive - losing all your data on the drive - a lot of the time they either don't make a repair, just swap the unit for an "identical" one, or else the plan to repair it, but send you a reconditioned one to reduce the time you have to wait to get it back, and then repair it and give it to someone else as a reconditioned replacement for theirs.

At the very least, back up everything.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:39 AM on July 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Note that if you're sending it to the corner technician store, he'd likely be pissed off at having to fix a laptop that he can't test the hinge while its working because it won't boot because you took the drive out, so either supply a boot disc/CD, or ask beforehand if it's safe to leave the drive in
posted by -harlequin- at 11:44 AM on July 8, 2006

It will at least boot to BIOS, right? Can't he just run Linux off a CD if he needs to boot to the OS for some reason?
posted by geoff. at 1:07 PM on July 8, 2006

Back up your data, wipe the drive and do your basic OS install or recovery CD. Or at least delete your data. It's not secure unless it's encrypted with totally non-trivial strong crypto, and even then you're putting it in the hands of unknown techs with unknown skillsets and ethics.

Even if you encrypt it with strong cryptography, it could be lost - many service centers have a "not responsible for data loss" clause, and they liberally use that clause for the speed and simplicity of imaging the drive with the factory default install for troubleshooting purposes.

And more often than not drives come back wiped and completely reinstalled with this factory default installation package.

And yeah, any independent tech would have a Knoppix or other live Linux cd on hand at all times. I do, and I specialize in laptop support. That doesn't always help, though, because often you need the default OS to test specific hardware/software configurations.
posted by loquacious at 1:56 PM on July 8, 2006

For the love everything holy, back up your stuff. If you're taking it back to the vendor or a large place, they might erase the hard drive for good measure. Small places won't usually just wipe the drive because they can.

Speaking as someone who worked at a small computer shop, please do not have a porn background or anything like that. And, if you don't want people looking at it, move it off the computer. While we didn't go browsing around on people's computers, I've heard stories about people finding the porn buried 5 folders deep out of the way or pilfering the mp3 collections.
posted by jeversol at 5:44 PM on July 8, 2006

Back up your data, wipe the drive and do your basic OS install or recovery CD.

That's what I'd do. As a Mac user, I'd zero the free space using iWipe and then do a clean install of Mac OS X. Frankly, I think the occasional clean install is the best way to keep the computer running smoothly, anyway.
posted by cribcage at 5:59 PM on July 8, 2006

Yank the HD. Murphy's Law will apply if you don't! Its not hard even for the most non techie... Screws and a plug.
posted by freeflytim at 6:43 PM on July 8, 2006

Seconded. Absolutely pull the drive.
posted by Caviar at 9:25 PM on July 9, 2006

I agree you should consider a Truecrypt volume or partition in the future. In fact, I use a Truecrypt volume for all of my data. I do this by creating a large 3.8GB volume (container) and it basically becomes my "data drive." All of my data from every program now points to this drive (volume). When someone boots my computer, they don't get anything except a C: drive with a lot of programs pointing to no data whatsoever. Only when I enter my password/key does the volume mount and become the correct drive letter. I made it 3.8GB so it is easy to backup to DVD. I keep a backup (or two) offsite and a couple onsite as well. The backed-up drive (Truecrypt volume) is, of course, already encrypted and is of no value to anybody. I also use an MRU cleaner, clean free-space regularly and would feel perfectly comfortable with taking my laptop to the repair shop. Or, if stolen, there's no data at all for identity thieves. I would highly recommend doing something like this so that your data is safe in case your laptop is stolen, your data is private and available only to you - and you can get it fixed without worry. Good luck!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 9:19 AM on July 10, 2006

« Older What's that art installation I saw?   |   What scam is this? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.