Selling Online Securely Isn't Rocket Science

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The news headlines recently told a surprising story about how used computer equipment sold by NASA still contained sensitive information on the hard drives. In this case, NASA's sensitive information was more along the lines of computer network information which hackers could potentially use for nefarious purposes, rather than an individual's information like credit card numbers or bank records. You'd think a bunch of rocket scientists would know to wipe sensitive information before selling computers, but apparently even the best of us can forget that vital step.

When you decide to sell your used computer equipment (or cell phone with memory card) online to get a little extra holiday spending money, make sure you correctly wipe out all information that could be used against you - from credit card information to make purchases on your dime, or personal information like addresses and phone numbers, to enable someone to steal your identity. Even if you're giving away an old machine to charity, you don't know how it will be used in the future, or by whom. Simply deleting files is not enough; computer programs exist that now allow those files to be recovered by anyone, even if they're not a computer genius. Don't forget that the phone itself has memory on it aside from the memory card. Simply removing the memory card from the phone will leave data on the phone itself, so make sure you get it all removed.

For computers, Darik's Boot and Nuke CD (DBAN) comes highly recommended for securely wiping out any information on a computer's storage systems. Use a search engine to download this file and burn it to a blank CD, then boot from it, and use the menu to tell it how securely you want the data wiped. It will let you wipe data that matches even the requirements of the Department of Defense. But make sure you've backed up all that data first - once DBAN gets rid of it, it's gone forever.

If you have a smart phone, you'll want to find an app that lets you securely wipe any remaining data on the phone or memory card in the phone just like you do with your computer. Which one you use depends on which type of smart phone you have, so you'll need to search online for advice on that.

Getting rid of private data on your electronics is only one step in security when selling or buying things online these days. If you're using eBay or Craigslist, or just giving away something for free, you'll want to know who you're dealing with before handing over any money, or meeting with someone in person. When you're in contact with the person you're about to transact with, use their phone number to run a reverse phone lookup and make sure they are who they say they are. Once you've run a reverse phone lookup, use the results to also run a people search for their name to see if they've got a bad reputation.