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Computer Disposal Guidelines

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When you wish to dispose of a computer (desktop, laptop, or server), you must first remove all the data (sensitive or otherwise) that is on it. NYU's Asset Management will not accept a machine for disposal unless you confirm that this process has taken place. Hard drive "sanitization" is important for two reasons. First, you do not want the next user of the system to have access to sensitive information (like research data, student info, financial data or patient information); and second, you do not want people to have unauthorized access to licensed software, such as Microsoft Word. Smart phones, such as iPhone, Blackberry, and Android devices, should also have all data and programs wiped before being re-appropriated or disposed. For more information on Asset Management's disposal options and request forms, visit www.nyu.edu/asset/Restricted/surplus-computer.html.

However, merely using the "delete" command or dragging items to the trash does not remove the data from the disk. There are many, widely available programs that can restore data deleted in this manner. A plain "format" command is somewhat better, but a determined person could still access sensitive data. Some operating systems offer a "format and zero out all data" command, which is better, and is sufficient for machines which are just being moved around within the University.

The easiest and most secure way to remove the data is to use a "wiping" program that not only deletes the data, but also overwrites each sector with garbage data multiple times. Be aware that the process will take some time (potentially hours if the drive is very large, or if the processor is slow). NYU's Purchasing Services also has a contract with a vendor, who will do the cleanup for you, if you do not wish to do it yourself. Check their website, http://www.nyu.edu/purchasing.services/ for more information.

If you do choose to do the cleanup yourself, you will need the following:

  1. A software program to wipe the disk and overwrite it with data. Some tools you could use are:
  2. A disk or CD to boot the computer from before you run the tool, so that you can sanitize the whole drive.

Make sure that the tool you use has a feature to wipe the whole drive, not just empty space. This is the only way to make sure that all files, settings, license keys, etc. are removed. There are many tools that can perform this function, so if you are unsure about whether a particular tool is sufficient, check with ITS Technology Security Services (security@nyu.edu).

Page last reviewed: July 25, 2011