How can I sanitize my laptop before turning it in?
July 29, 2008 3:55 AM   Subscribe

I am leaving my job abroad and have been using a company laptop for two and a half years. Now I have to turns said laptop in. How do I keep my IT masters back in the States from getting all snoopy?

I have an Ubuntu partition and a Windows XP partition. I can obliterate the Linux one, if that's easier. I'm assuming they want the Windows they gave me somewhat intact, though. Pretty much, I just want to make sure that all of my personal finance information, passwords, and sexy photos of my girlfriend are safely removed.

I've heard too many IT guys bragging to assume that deleting them is enough.

Thanks!
posted by bryak to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 

Portable Eraser
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posted by the dief at 4:07 AM on July 29, 2008


just format the hard disk. I don't think they can fire you for that.
posted by matteo at 4:12 AM on July 29, 2008


Unless you have been specifically asked to preserve data, wipe it. That's what I tell my users (the ones I like, anyway).
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:19 AM on July 29, 2008


If you do want to wipe the whole deal - which I recommend - you can use Boot and Nuke to do it in style.
posted by the dief at 4:24 AM on July 29, 2008


Nuking the whole disk is really the best deal in terms of peace of mind gained versus time consumed. DBAN is a very good tool for this. Theoretically you could delete your personal information from the XP partition and wipe the free space, but I'll bet you will forget something behind.

Do you have restore disks for the XP partition? you could at least go through the trouble of reinstalling and patching, to return it in a (sort of) working state and save your IT people some grief.

That being said, if they are any kind of professional, they will probably format and reinstall anyway before passing it on to the next user, to save themselves the trouble in case some years-old cruft breaks later on. Whether they go through it for porn before is a function of their available time and workload.
posted by ghost of a past number at 5:05 AM on July 29, 2008


You all have sold me. I'm just going to nuke the whole thing. If it works properly, I won't be able to respond for a few days.

Thanks for the assist!
posted by bryak at 5:10 AM on July 29, 2008


You might want to use magic jelly bean key finder to get the product activation keys for XP and/or office before nuking your HDD.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:30 AM on July 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


Yup, use Boot and Nuke. It'll do a government wipe, which means even hard disk recovery firms wouldn't be able to reconstitute your data (or, at least, would have an extremely difficult time of it).
posted by greenie2600 at 5:41 AM on July 29, 2008


Yeah the flip side is to make doubly sure that there's nothing still on there that you (or they) want to keep.
posted by meta_eli at 5:44 AM on July 29, 2008


You might want to use magic jelly bean key finder to get the product activation keys for XP and/or office before nuking your HDD.

Though keep in mind those are likely owned by the company, so you probably shouldn't use them for any future personal installs.
posted by inigo2 at 6:35 AM on July 29, 2008


if they are anything like the IT department I work in. We dont have time to snoop around what files you had on your laptop.

Its company policy as soon as its handed in it will be wiped and imaged, if it is to be re distributed.

Or smashed up into little pieces if not.

However if i received a laptop that had been wiped I would start thinking what is this user trying to hide.......
posted by moochoo at 6:43 AM on July 29, 2008


I'm assuming they want the Windows they gave me somewhat intact, though.

They probably don't. Theyre going to re-image it. You can just wipe the disc with DBAN.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:49 AM on July 29, 2008


Before you listen to all this lovely advice, make sure you check what your company's policy is, if any. To give just one example, if there is a litigation hold in place, wiping the drive entirely could get both you and the company in a great deal of trouble. IAAL. IANYL.
posted by The Bellman at 6:49 AM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also, its worth mentioning that if you use a VPN or citrix then they might already have the files backed up someplace. All the more reason not to keep personal stuff on business equipment.

If you dont want to do a wipe then you can delete everything, empty the recycling bin, and do a sdelete.exe -z on the drive. This will overwrite the areas that you have deleted.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:51 AM on July 29, 2008


Why not just make a bid to own the laptop?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:03 AM on July 29, 2008


If one of my users wiped a laptop clean I'd be pretty royally pissed.

Generally, we create a clean account, but the machine and assets go back out again.

I can't really feel for you if you have data on a work machine that you don't want your employer to see.

That said, I agree with moochoo above, I don't have time to go though your data, but the next user might.

Just get any files off there you are worried about, clear your browser cache and history, etc.

Really, if you don't know how to cover your tracks, you shouldn't be using the machine for anything you're worried about. Actually, strike that. You shouldn't be using a work machine for anything you're worried about period.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:01 AM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


"I'm assuming they want the Windows they gave me somewhat intact, though."

If your organization is large enough to have dedicated IT guys they probably don't care. They'll either be discarding the unit or they'll re-image before handing it out again. Neither needs a good windows install. Support re-images to protect both you and the company. It's not hard to imagine New User getting access to sensitive information (payroll, benifits, contracts, emails) left behind on the machine by Old User (or porn) if support doesn't take steps to prevent it. And with users, windows and it's applications spewing information everywhere a nice clean image is safest. And it's easy too.

JohnnyGunn writes "Why not just make a bid to own the laptop?"

If you are thinking this would be a way to preserve the data it probably won't work. The company is going to want to give you the laptop with just the windows install. So it'll still be imaged.
posted by Mitheral at 8:14 AM on July 29, 2008


>If one of my users wiped a laptop clean I'd be pretty royally pissed.

Wow - I've never seen that, typically most companies WANT to image the machine before sending it to another user. But it depends on the organization & it's policies. Here we expect most users to actually configure their machines themselves (heh - licensing is typically not a concern)...

However, I would also be very suspicious getting a completely unbootable machine.

Do you have local admin priviledges? Create another account (with admin priviledges), then remove your data as well as can be, login with the new account and delete the old one from the filesystem.

How big is the hard-drive? Sacrifice a $100, buy one the same size and switch 'em out - put your old one in a USB external case.
posted by jkaczor at 1:35 PM on July 29, 2008


That's what I was going to say. Ask if you can switch for an identical HD. Who's going to say no to a brand new HD?? (- Someone who wants to snoop through your shit, that's who.) As long as it's just one that pops out and not one where you actually have to go inside to get to (like a BenQ I was cleaning the other day!) then what would possibly be the problem with that?
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 11:40 PM on July 29, 2008


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