Here’s how to ensure your device is clear of personal data before giving it back to your company.
Try as I might to keep my personal and work life separate, the two overlap, specifically when it comes to my work computer. Throughout the day, not only do I have the impulse to browse non-work-related sites if only for a moment’s diversion, I’m also guilty of entering personal information to pay a bill or access my email. This is less of a concern if you work at a business that uses Dashlane, since the app easily lets you separate your personal and business accounts. But if your company has yet to adopt a password manager, it can be tough to ensure your sensitive information stays off your work computer.
If you have personal data, search history, or files stored on a device, here are the ways to ensure your computer is squeaky clean before returning it to your IT department.
Even if you have nothing to hide, it’s still a good idea to make sure that all of your info and potentially sensitive documents are protected. Many companies will wipe a computer before it’s given to the next employee, but at some companies that may not be standard. Play it safe and follow these steps.
Use a flash drive or an external hard drive to save anything of value to you. Make sure you’re saving your work, and not something that belongs to the company, like sensitive internal documents.
Choose a harddrive: WD (Western Digital) makes a very small, portable external hard drive for Macs for around $110. I’ve had one with 20 GB of storage for at least the past 6 or so years, and it continues to work great.
Backing up a Mac
Connect your hard drive. Note: You may be prompted to format the disk. Choose the format most compatible with your device. Apple goes into detail about each format on their website.
Backing up a PC
To back up a PC, specifically for Windows 8 or later, you will use the built-in File History application.
Should I back up my info elsewhere?
Experts recommend both cloud-based backups and physical backups to ensure your information is accessible in case your external hard drive breaks, but this only makes sense if you are storing information in a place that you’ll have access to after you leave your job.
Microsoft has its own cloud-based backup software for Windows, called Azure.
For Macs, you can store files in the cloud by connecting your computer to your iCloud account with your AppleID, but this creates another instance of entering your personal data into your work computer.
You can also add files to your personal Google Drive, and make sure you then securely sign out of your account.
With Dashlane, only you can access your accounts. Log in via the browser extension while on your work computer and all your passwords are at your fingertips. Simply log out to ensure no one has access to any of your safely encrypted passwords.
If you have administrative permissions on your laptop and you’ve already backed up your personal files to your own portable hard drive, the next step is wiping clean your entire computer, so that aside from the Cheeto dust that’s collected on your keyboard, it’s like-new. Because data recovery software exists, the only way to permanently delete files is to wipe your startup disk clean. Note that these processes can be lengthy, so plug your device into a power source before you begin.
If you don’t have administrative access, skip ahead to the next section.
On a Mac
Wiping a Mac clean is done through MacOS Recovery, and it is fairly simple.
On a PC
Wiping a PC clean is trickier when compared to a Mac. Wired recommends using DBAN, but you can also download free software like KillDisk.
If you want to wipe your computer clean before handing it to the IT department, but you can’t do a thorough scrubbing like the methods mentioned above, take these steps:
On a Mac
If you’re somewhat more tech-savvy, you can use Mac’s Terminal (within Utilities), where you can manually delete files for good by typing the file’s path into the Terminal window. Or, if your permissions allow it, you can download third-party software like File Shredder. This works for HDD drives. On newer Macs, which usually use SSD drives, you will need to make sure your files are encrypted (be sure FileVault is switched ON in System Preferences). So, no one will be able to access your files without your password (another case for having a strong password).
On a PC
Use a third-party tool like Eraser for Windows to securely delete your files.