(FOX19) - Years ago, a thief had to physically break into your home or office to steal information.
In the age of upgrades, many people get rid of their computers every couple of years. But when you either throw it away, sell it on ebay or recycle the unit, you're often giving the new owner all of your old information.
Janet Richer wants to recycle her old computer without recycling her information. So she brought it to the Cincinnati Computer Cooperative, where workers will either take it apart and send it to computer heaven, or refurbish it.
"It was important to me was making sure that everything got off of it, because I didn't know how to do that," said Richer.
Workers at CCC do.
But we wanted to see what could happen if richer took her hard drive to a different organization, or even just threw it out.
How much data is left on your hard drive, even after you delete everything?
"I took off all my personal memos and things like that," said Richer. "I did as much as I could. I even had a couple of people look at it and see if they could figure out how to get everything off, but they couldn't."
The computer was taken to the experts at Greater Cincinnati Computer.
The geeks here work hard day in and day out, recovering data for those who need a little help after we accidentally hit the delete button.
Technicians took out the hard drive and hooked up the unit to their system, running several programs designed to recover data.
"The previous owner felt that they had deleted everything," said Jim Kimmick and Greater Cincinnati Computer. "When I plugged the drug in, a slave drive is what they call it, I was able to see all their programs and files that were on the system."
Kimmick then ran another program.
"I'm now running a more thorough program which will be able to pull back everything they've deleted from the last 6 months to one year, and we'll be able to see anything or everything they've deleted," he said.
The process took hours, and the program was able to recover photos and even a tax return.
Richer's tax return was still on her hard drive.
Technicians here used programs that anyone can buy off the Internet, ranging between $100 to $200.
"Oh, well, that makes me upset because I did not think all of that was left on there," said Richer. "And as much as I searched, and I had a couple of people search, I couldn't find anything."
In Simson Garfinkel's book, "Database Nation," he proves the problem.
He bought several hard drives off ebay, once owned by a medical center.
Garfinkel writes that the drive contained 31,000 credit card numbers.
"Generally speaking, we recommend they pull the hard drive out, put it in the file cabinet in case there's files they want off of it at a later date, or pull the hard drive out and take a big hammer to it," said Kimmick.
Or just make sure you turn it over to a reputable organization, that take deleting information very seriously.
Cincinnati Computer Cooperative uses government grade software to delete hard drives that'll be used again.
And the ones that are just too old? They get crushed.
"No computer is sent downstream to a recycler with a hard drive in it," said Walt Fischer with CCC. "We remove it and crush it, or wipe it before it goes out of this building."
Richer's computer was returned to CCC so they could recycle it without recycling her information.
The best way to ensure you're not passing your information on to someone else is to destroy it.
If you're not comfortable bashing your hard drive with a hammer, consider hanging on to it. You could fit a couple of them in a shoebox.