This article was updated on Sept. 6, 2018.
When the time comes for a new work computer or other electronic device, you may donate or sell your old one. But do you clear your important information from it? What if your laptop or phone is lost or stolen? To guard against the risk of a damaging data breach in any of these situations, all organizations should ensure they know how to clear a computer and any other device they use for business. It's also important to back up all data to avoid losing any essential information.
Invest in MDM for Mobile Devices
The easy portability of laptops, tablets and smartphones puts them at greater risk for loss or theft than desktop computers. Investing in mobile device management (MDM) software that offers a remote wipe feature can help a business in the event a device goes missing — especially if a majority of employees are using mobile devices. Small businesses may particularly benefit from cloud-based MDM services that are available on a subscription basis.
Recycle Unwanted Tech
Businesses should also have a plan for clearing computers that become unusable. It's possible to physically destroy hardware and toss it in a landfill, but this isn't the best option. Computers, particularly older models, may leach hazardous chemicals when trashed.
Recycling programs for electronic devices not only help the environment, but they benefit businesses, too. Apple, for instance, offers a recycling service that includes a secure wipe of all data. Other services, such as the Electronic Recycling Association, accept used computers and other electronics, wipe them according to strict security standards and either dispose of or donate them to good causes.
Consider External Assistance
If a business decides to give a computer with old data a fresh start, the device's main operating system should provide tools for erasing the drive, reformatting it and making a fresh install. There are also programs available that can wipe drives clean, although their performance and security vary. One concern is that some advanced forensics specialists may still be able to recover files that have not been deleted entirely. Another is that advanced computing skills may be required to fully remove data.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology provides detailed guidance on how to clear a computer to ensure it is sanitized. But, for many, a better option may be to use the services of a certified refurbisher. The National Association for Information Destruction provides directories of certified organizations that can securely wipe computers.
Securely wiping tech devices is a best practice for safeguarding business data from loss or theft, or a data breach that could occur after replacing an old device. By knowing how to wipe a computer, phone or tablet, you'll be better able to protect your business.