How to Securely Decommission Hardware

Regardless of the industry your business operates within, you’ll need to do more than clear your browser history before decommissioning your outdated PCs. Old computers hold sensitive information which, if discovered by a third party, could send a thriving business spinning into financial ruin. The issue that many companies are forced to face is that disposing of old computers takes time, particularly if you’re replacing them en masse.

Given the complex nature of PC disposal, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. PC disposal is a particularly messy combination of security risks, financial concerns, and accounting nightmares. Businesses often mistakenly believe that retiring outdated PCs will be a simple process like removing software, wherein the user needs only to select which licenses to keep and delete the rest.

When disposing of hardware, however, hard drives must be scrubbed clean of important files and PCs need to be marked as “decommissioned” in official records, all without wasting too much energy or money. While this is a highly-individualized process which varies from business to business, there are certain practices worth consideration and practices to avoid at all costs.

Getting Started

Due to both its complexity and importance, beginning the process of PC disposal is far easier with the aid of a checklist. Not only will it make the process considerably easier on you, but it will ensure that you don’t accidentally forget a step and leave sensitive information on a discarded PC. Your checklist should look something like this:

  1. Allow accounting personnel to examine the hardware and determine how to record decommissioning expenses, as well as decide where the hardware will be going (e.g. a recycler or a donation center).
  2. Select a data wipe and use it to remove all information from the device’s hard drive. It is imperative that you select a reliable data wipe, as this step is the most crucial to protecting your organization from a data breach.
  3. Restart the device and ensure that the information has been completely erased. This step guarantees that you do not accidentally leave private information for potential thieves.
  4. Unplug the device and prepare it to be moved out of the office or into its storage space. Whatever your checklist looks like, this should be the last step in almost all scenarios.

One common mistake is moving the computer before wiping its hard drive. If the PC you’re about to dispose of is still plugged in, clear any important information before you use it. While still plugged in at the desk, you can be certain that the PC has power and is still in working order. Once you’ve moved it, however, any number of things can go awry and it will be much more difficult to determine the cause and solution of the issue.

When you’re ready to clear the information, run your preferred software to erase information from the hard disk. Be certain that you’re using the best software possible, however, or you run the risk of old files remaining on the hardware for anyone to stumble upon. Ensure that all sensitive information is erased before the hardware is moved anywhere; this minimizes any security threats by keeping all your data in-house.

Accounting and Financing

Decommissioning old PCs is as much an accounting venture as it is a technical one. In addition to meticulously cleaning each individual computer, you’ll need to carefully track the total expenses of the disposal process and see that they are logged accordingly.

On a similar note, you’ll want to take every financial advantage that you can when getting rid of your old hardware. Before you begin decommissioning, it’s best to let your CFO’s people have a look at the hardware that they’ll be writing off. Seemingly innocuous factors like whether or not you expensed the PCs and where they’ll be going can drastically affect how you should file your balance sheets and tax forms.

Label each PC you’ll be decommissioning with important information like the name of the IT staffer who oversaw its disposal, asset tag numbers and the date and time. Log all of this information and see that a separate copy is sent to the CFO, who will know how to appropriately file it away.

Handling Hardware and Sustainability

There are several key steps to be taken during the disposal of PCs that can drastically limit the waste produced. Many businesses will often send their PCs off to a recycler as the first resort, but this is not the most cost-effective or sustainable method of decommissioning PCs.

Whenever possible, your first route should be to donate old hardware to a local school or charity. Not only does this offer significant tax benefits, but it also minimizes your waste while benefitting a worthy group.

If donating your old PCs is not possible or not advisable for your situation, then recyclers are your next best option. Recyclers cost money and will not be as eco-friendly as reusing an entire computer, but they are certainly preferable to letting your old hardware sit in a landfill. Your recycler of choice may offer to clear your hard drives for you, but it is always best to destroy your own data. Not only does it save you an unnecessary expense, but it avoids a security threat.

What if the recycler doesn’t clear the files entirely or copies sensitive information? For both accounting purposes and your own peace of mind, make sure that each PC has been thoroughly cleaned before letting it leave the office.

The Dangers of Uncleaned Hard Drives

In an attempt to circumvent the data-removal process, some businesses may choose to simply remove and store the hard drive. While this may be a simple solution in the short-term, it will raise noteworthy concerns down the line. Not only is hard drive storage a waste of space, but it’s far too likely that an accountant may mistakenly send the old hardware off to a recycler without asking if it has been properly cleaned.

Never try to save time by simply destroying old hardware. While some may find it therapeutic to smash old hard drives or take them to a firing range, this is not advisable. Not only does it offer no significant benefits to your business, but it frequently poses significant safety risks for those involved in the destruction.

Retain a Few Devices

Once you have decided where the majority of decommissioned PCs will be going, keep a few on hand in storage. If technical issues should arise in the future, having spare parts on hand could offer significant financial benefits. When selecting which PCs to keep, be sure to have strict criteria for what is considered “working order” and keep only the best pieces of hardware available.

Conversely, this is not an excuse to hoard dozens of PCs that would otherwise be disposed of. The larger the number of stored PCs, the more it will cost to keep them put away. Before long, you’ll find that you’re losing money in storage costs rather than saving it in spare parts. After you’ve already lost your investment, the excess hardware will end up being sent to a recycler anyway, so avoid hoarding your unused PCs.

The exception to this rule is in the case of your CFO insisting on keeping a few extra retired PCs. The CFO will almost certainly know what the best accounting procedure is, so follow their lead on how much old hardware to store.

Thorough Cleaning

Regardless of your business’ purpose, you will inevitably find yourself with PCs that need to be decommissioned. Failing to properly dispose of private data can result in the company strategies being stolen by competitors or private employee information being stolen and used to blackmail your organization. Whether your company undergoes large-scale tech upgrades, mergers, security changes or any other issue, discarding your old PCs will be a venture made considerably simpler with the help of Clarabyte.

ClaraWipe is Clarabyte’s first-class data removal program and it ensures that every file is removed from the hardware and is utterly irretrievable. You should always test a solution before entrusting it with your business’ success, so schedule a demo and be sure that your business’ privacy will not be destroyed by an errant file on a decommissioned PC.

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