academics header

Security Tips

The Importance of Being Updated

Microsoft and Apple regularly release software updates to the operating system and applications. These updates are often the delivery mechanism for security patches, and it's important that you install them. There are active, significant security threats that are addressed in updates recently delivered.

If you aren't sure whether your computer has the latest updates installed, you can find instructions at Software Updates and Resources.

How to Securely Erase Your Hard Drive

We have found computers in our dumpsters with very sensitive personal data still on the hard drive, including tax records. This would be a bonanza for an identity thief. What to do? Read on.

Before you throw out or give away any computer, you should ensure that all personal data is erased from the hard drive. This is not a simple matter of throwing files into the trash, because they can still be pretty easily recovered, even after the trash is emptied. Instead, you should write over the disk repeatedly to thoroughly erase it. On a Mac that's not too difficult, on a PC you have to work a little harder (but you'd already guessed that, hadn't you?).

When IT recycles a computer we take care of this for you, but if you have a personal computer you should definitely take the time. Instructions are below, but if you're overwhelmed at the prospect you can contact the Hampshire Student Diagnostic Center for help (even if you're faculty or staff), at extension 6602.

With all of these methods, make sure you are ready to say goodbye to the data. It will be irretrievably gone when you're done.

The Macintosh has a program called Disk Utility that will erase your disk by writing 0's over it repeatedly. The more times you write the 0's, the more securely destroyed the files are. One catch with Disk Utility is that you have to have a CD, DVD, or external drive to boot from (erasing the disk that contains the system you're currently running would be a feat destined for failure).

  1. Insert the system disk that came with your computer into the disk drive. If you don't have that, beg, borrow, or steal one (okay, scratch that last suggestion; just beg or borrow).
  2. Restart your computer, holding down the "C" key to force it to boot from the CD drive.
  3. When you are faced with the system install screen, find the menus at the top of the screen. One of them should contain "Disk Utility." Select that option.
  4. In Disk Utility, select your internal disk (the one you want to erase), from the list on the left.
  5. Select "Security Options..." and then select the option that sounds appropriate for you. The trade-off is security of erasing vs. time it takes to do it.
  6. Select Erase... and let it go.
  7. If you like, you can now quit Disk Utility and re-install system software on the computer. If you're just throwing it away, don't bother.

The PC is more complicated because you can't do it from the system disk that came with it. We recommend using a program called dBan, which you can find at You will find instructions on that site for creating a CD or DVD that you can boot from, as well as instructions for using the program.

The Brute Force Method for Any Computer
If you don't care about the condition of the hard drive, and you can figure out how to access it, you can drill a hole into it to prevent it from being read. The best place to do this is close to the spindle. You can do it in a couple of places if you're not sure.

Another option is a hammer that's good and heavy. We're a little hesitant to suggest this, considering the potential for flying debris, so definitely put on some safety goggles before you try it.



Contact Us

Information Technology
Harold F. Johnson Library Center
Hampshire College
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002
Fax 413.559.5419

© 2014 Hampshire College 893 West Street Amherst, MA 01002 . 413.549.4600