dispose of your devicesThe time has come: maybe the smartphone you’ve been glued to for the past couple of years has been freezing up on you, or you’ve decided that you need to move on to a laptop that can actually run the software you need it to run. After going out and getting that new device, you may start to wonder what you should do with your old one — and the decision you make could come back and haunt you in the form of identity theft, depending on how you dispose of your devices. Keep reading to find out more about why proper disposal matters, what you need to consider before discarding your devices and how you can dispose of your computer, phone and tablet in a more secure way.

Why proper disposal matters

Proper disposal of your devices matters because doing so will allow you to protect all of the sensitive information stored on your devices and storage devices (e.g., the hard drive or hard disk drive (HDD), solid state drive (SSD) and more). It’s no surprise that your devices often store your personal data, including your personal messages and photos, contact details for your loved ones, stored passwords and more, making them gold mines for identity thieves, as they can draw on this information to impersonate you and commit fraud under your name or even target you for scams. While you may be thinking, “This won’t happen to me,” it’s a lot more common than you think, as noted by this Motherboard article. It details reports Fox-IT received from people who’ve had their sensitive information stolen from their Android devices — even after they completed factory resets on them. As such, it’s best to do what you can to prevent criminals from getting access to personal information stored on your devices, and this is when proper disposal comes into play.

What you should consider before you dispose of your devices

How sensitive is the information stored on your device?

When it comes to figuring out what you should consider before you dispose of your devices, it’s a good idea to think about the sensitivity of the stored information and who would want it, since that could help you determine what sorts of steps you should take in sanitizing your data. For instance, when it comes to disposing devices, an average Joe probably doesn’t need to take as many steps to secure their devices as a CIA agent, since the average identity thief or hacker may lose interest in accessing the average Joe’s data if they aren’t low-hanging fruit , whereas a hacker set on getting a CIA agent’s information or company secrets may do whatever it takes to obtain that.

Recycling and reselling vs. destroying vs. keeping your device

There are several ways to dispose of your devices, including recycling and reselling or giving away your device, trashing it or storing it in a secured place in your home. When deciding what you’ll be doing with your device, the sensitivity of your stored data should come into play. Generally speaking, you’ll want to destroy your device (e.g., take a screwdriver to a computer’s hard drive) or keep it in a secured place if it contains highly sensitive information, as these are two of the only steps that will ensure your data is secure.

If your stored data is less sensitive, recycling or reselling your device are two other options that you could consider. That said, from a privacy standpoint, it could be more secure to destroy your device rather than recycling or reselling it, but if you’re intent on recycling, reselling or even giving away your device, keep reading to learn about the data sanitization tactics you need to know to protect your data.

Keep in mind that your data could be stored outside of your device

When you’re thinking of the data on your phone, you may only be thinking of the data physically stored on it, but you should also remember your cloud data, as some of your data could still be compromised even if you discard your devices in a secured way. For example, data that’s stored in the cloud, in other servers or elsewhere could still get hacked. By getting rid of your device properly, you can make sure that it’s more difficult for cybercriminals to get access to the data and cloud accounts that are stored on your devices, thereby reducing your attack surface, or the number of ways that you could be attacked. Remember that you should also be practicing strong cybersecurity habits, as doing so will ensure the safety of your digital accounts long after you dispose of your devices.

Other things to remember

Lastly, it’s worth noting that if you’re planning on disposing of a company device or device from an organization or business, you’ll want to make sure you’re following the organization or business’ device disposal policies before dissembling and discarding them. Also, keep in mind that each device is different, so you’ll want to read up on what you need to do to sanitize the data for your particular device. With all that in mind (we know it’s a lot), here’s what you should do if you want to resell, recycle or give away your device.

What to do if you want to resell, recycle or give away your device

Encryption

One of the best steps you can take before you resell or recycle your device is encryption (i.e., rendering data inaccessible and unreadable to unauthorized parties). By encrypting your data, you’ll be able to ensure that when the time does come for you to hand over your device, those who receive it won’t be able to access your data — assuming that they don’t have the password or key to unlock the encryption. As such, you’ll want to turn on disk and storage encryption as soon as you can — ideally when you first use your device.

The good news is you don’t have to be a computer whiz to take advantage of encryption. That’s because major desktop operations support and provide instructions for encryption. You can encrypt your Mac with FileVault and your Windows with BitLocker, for example. You can also take easy steps to encrypt the data on your mobile, such as your iPhone or Android, which you can learn more about here.

Wiping

Wiping the data on your device and storage devices before recycling, reselling or giving them away is a second security measure you should undertake, since that would decrease the chances of identity thieves getting their hands on your personal information. To successfully wipe your data, however, you’ll have to be aware of where your device stores data and what type of data you have. For example, it’s good to know if your laptop has an HDD or an SSD (the storage drive that replaced HDDs), since these drives require different handling when it comes to erasing them. Another example is that if you have an iPhone, a factory reset could be comparatively more effective, whereas Android users may find that factory reset may not give them the results they want. To learn more about these differences and the tools you can use to wipe your devices, you can refer to this Motherboard article.

What to do if you want to trash your device

If the information on your device or storage device is highly sensitive, you’ll want to destroy it if you don’t plan on storing it in a secure place. However, while destroying a device seems straightforward and easy to do, there are some steps and precautions you’ll want to take and keep in mind. For one, make sure you’re doing your research to find out how to properly destroy your device and how to successfully destroy what you actually need to. If you’re trying to get rid of an old hard drive and prevent others from accessing your data on it, for example, it’s helpful to know that you’ll need to destroy the platters in the drive and make them “unspinnable,” be it by drilling holes through the drive (make sure you take the necessary safety precautions and wear goggles as you break the platters), sanding the platters’ surfaces or undertaking other safe courses of action. Before you do that, you’ll also want to remove your SIM and SD cards from your phone and delete the data if you won’t be using or keeping them, since they can store your information as well. Destroying a mobile phone, on the other hand, means that you’d likely have to remove the battery from the phone, and then smash the phone and its memory chip packages to smithereens (avoid setting it on fire, as this could result in a dangerous battery explosion).

Now that you know more about how to dispose of your devices while protecting your data, follow our identity theft blog to find out more about what else you can do to protect your privacy and identity.