written by
Zack Calloway

What Happens to Your Old Hardware? What About the Data on It?

Upgrades Budget 1 min read
Is your business data at risk? Don’t take chances with old tech

What does your business do with old hardware when it reaches end of life?

We’re talking about old computers, external drives, servers— anything that has the capability of storing data.

Do you know what happens to this old tech at your business? If not, you might want to investigate—because improperly disposing of old hardware could put your data at risk.

Where Old Hardware Goes to Die (or Live Again)

The first thing to discuss is what actually happens to your old hardware when it no longer serves any purpose at your business. Often that hardware still has some monetary value, so it often gets sold. Even if you don’t sell your old hardware yourself, some other entity might do it for you. (You might not even be aware that that “electronics recycling firm” is reselling their usable salvage!)

Sometimes hardware really has no use and ends up in dumps or being stripped for parts and resellable metals. But often if there’s any life left in it, hardware ends up on a resale market.

What About Old Hard Drives?

Old hard drives can sometimes be a special case. Even if the machine the hard drive was in has gone kaput, the hard drive may still work just fine.

And the scary thing is, sometimes hard drives like these get stripped out and sold to less-than-reputable players. These people are looking for drives with data they can leverage.

The Dark Side of Erasing Data

You may be thinking at this point: “OK, but what does it matter? As long as we delete all our files before tossing (or selling, or recycling) our old hardware, everything’s fine…right?”

No, not right.

That’s because lots of data that has been deleted can still easily be recovered.

CleverFiles Disk Drill, CCleaner Recuva, and EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard are just a few consumer-friendly apps that many people use to recover photos or other files they didn’t mean to delete. The files really were deleted…but these apps can restore them anyway. (And some of these apps are free!)

We’re not talking about “forgot to empty the trash” situations here, either. These files are really, actually gone. …Until they’re not.

All this is because of how deleting data works. When you delete something on a hard drive, it doesn’t immediately go away. The drive merely marks that data sector as “deleted,” or free to be overwritten. Eventually, when your computer needs the space to write new data, it will write over the top of the deleted data.

So at the simplest level, if a deleted file hasn’t been overwritten, these consumer tools can retrieve the file.

It Gets Worse

And that’s just consumer-grade tools. Businesses, governments, and data criminals have access to even more powerful tools that can restore data that has been partially or potentially even completely overwritten! Advanced algorithms can analyze partial data and build out recovery data to fill in the gaps of what is no longer available.

There are limits here, and proper data erasure is possible. But if you don’t take action or work with the professionals on decommissioning old hardware, you could be handing your data over to others.

What You Can Do

You don’t want your old hard drives and storage to become a liability. So what can you do?

Start with knowing what happens to your old equipment. Are you returning it to a trusted hardware vendor? Selling it yourself? Something a little less clear?

Next, make sure you’ve properly wiped old hard drives. If you’re especially concerned about this threat, you can even physically destroy removable drives in otherwise salvageable hardware (but you might want to check in with some pros first).

Ultimately the best solution is to work with a professional partner that understands the ins and outs of data security. If you need a partner like that, we’re happy to help. Reach out to our team now!

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