Securely dispose of devices and data

Securely dispose of devices and data

You have several options for storing electronic data: hard drives, cell phones, CDs, DVDs, flash drives, digital media players, and external hard drives. Chances are, you use several of these devices because they serve different purposes. But all of these devices store data that can be read or accessed without your knowledge or consent—perhaps even after you think the data is gone. Even if you delete sensitive information, it may still be recoverable unless you completely erase and/or destroy the device.

When you delete a file, what you're actually doing is erasing the path to that file—in short, you're telling the device to forget where that file is. The file itself is still stored in memory, although it's treated as empty space and could be overwritten by new data. The only way to completely and permanently delete data from a device is to use a "secure erase" feature, which overwrites the file with random new data. If you're disposing of the device, you should also consider destroying it to make certain that its data cannot be recovered. This may be necessary if that device was used to store highly sensitive information.

Many computers now come with secure erase features or can download an application to securely erase data for you. Most smartphones, tablets, and other portable "smart" devices have an option to wipe all data or restore to factory default.


Securely erasing University information

  • Securely erase digital sensitive University information when it is no longer necessary to fulfill your job responsibilities or a University activities process.
  • Shred documents containing sensitive University information.

Disposing of IT devices

IT provides a central service for disposing of IT devices. Follow these guidelines only for University-owned devices and only if your unit does not have its own procedure to erase and/or destroy media. Contact your unit IT professional for more information.

  1. Back up any files that you need to retain.
  2. Complete an Equipment Activity Web form for the device and request central disposal through IT.

If you or your unit are disposing of the device locally rather than through IT, use the following process instead.

  1. Back up any files that you need to retain.
  2. Securely erase all information from the device.
  3. If the device is not intended for reuse, destroy either the entire device or its storage media.

General guidelines

Securely erasing data

  • Use a native feature (such as Apple OS X's "secure erase") or an application (such as Eraser) to securely erase sensitive information from your personal devices when it's no longer necessary.
  • If a physical document containing sensitive personal information is no longer needed, shred it.

Disposing of personal devices

Remember that any storage device, including your cellphone, tablet, or portable media player, can potentially contain sensitive University information such as passwords, account data, dates of birth, and even Social Security numbers. Whenever you need to dispose of a device containing storage media of any kind, always erase its data as completely as possible to prevent it from being available to anyone afterward.

  • Back up any files that you need to retain.
  • Securely erase the device, especially if you plan to sell or donate it.
  • Consider physically destroying the device for extra security.

External resources

Securely erasing media (UD IT help file)
Provides recommendations for erasing files and erasing or destroying disks.