Most consumers buy new hardware regularly — a new PC for instance that is replacing the old one, preferably faster and with more hard drive space, or a new digital camera or cell phone.
But what about the old hardware? You could of course give it to family members or close friends, but what if there isn't anyone who would want it? Selling the hardware on a site like eBay could be the solution then. Making a few bucks from used hardware that is no longer needed is a great deal for anyone, right?
What most users don't know is that they can run into trouble when selling used hardware. The reason is simple — data that is stored on those devices might still be accessible. Even users who think they have deleted the data thoroughly might be in for a surprise if a tech-savvy friend points it out to them. Or if they find out later that the buyer decided to publish private documents, pictures or videos on the Internet.
Computers have hard drives that store the data. Most consumers think that formatting the hard drive is enough to delete the data so that it cannot be recovered. That, however, is far from the truth. It becomes even less obvious with devices with built-in storage, digital cameras for instance, or cell phones. Those contain data as well and many consumers do not delete the data before they sell the device. That's a huge privacy problem. Data that is not deleted can be accessed by the new owner immediately but many do not know that it is also possible to recover deleted data with the right tools.
Data Deletion 101
Whenever you delete data in an operating system it is not deleted physically from the device. The operating system simply marks the area where the data is stored as writable and deletes the file information that is pointing to that area. This means that the data is still there and that it can be recovered with the right tools.
Why does the operating system do it this way? The simple answer is that it is faster to simply delete the file pointer and mark the data as writable.
Securely deleting data is often referred to as wiping data. This process ensures that it becomes impossible to recover the data that was stored on the devices.