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If your organization has recently replaced workstations with newer systems, selling the old computers can be a good way of recouping funds. Alternatively, many small and medium businesses also donate older systems to charity for a nice tax deduction. Both methods can reduce the amount of electronic waste your office produces and offer financial benefits, either by way of tax relief or money. But whether you sell or donate your old workstations, steps must be taken to protect yourself from potential security issues such as fraud, data breaches, and more.

So what needs to be done? Below, we have detailed steps that should be taken prior to selling or donating old computers.

Backup Documents & Programs

First, you should backup any file you expect you will need if you have not already. If the data will be backed up just for archival purposes, a cold storage solution such as LTO tape media will be ideal. Keeping files permanently on a network attached storage drive may not be ideal if there is a massive amount of data to backup, as some of it may be extraneous.

For files you need to transfer to another computer, put them temporarily on a NAS device or external storage drive until the new system is up and running. Afterwards, you can transfer the files and then delete them from the NAS device.

Also consider a complete imaging of the old computer’s storage drives, which is an exact 1:1 copy of a drive. Imaging a drive allows you to save more data, as it will include hidden and system files. Meanwhile, backing up files via file transfers can result in important system and registry files being skipped.


Deauthorize Software (DRM & Volume Licensing)

Second, you need to deauthorize all installed software that utilizes digital rights management (DRM) or licensing. Often included with programs as innocuous as Apple® iTunes®, leaving DRM authorized for a computer will cause you to permanently lose one installation of that program. Popular productivity programs such as Adobe® Photoshop® and Microsoft Office also require authorization and allow for a number of limited installs.

The most time-consuming part of this step will probably be trying to find which software utilizes digital rights management. If you have list of licenses or programs that require them however, this process will be much faster.


Wipe the Drive

At this point, you may think installing the operating system is the next step, considering it can reformat storage drives. However, the built-in reformatting tool found on the Windows installation disc does not securely reformat the drive. It is possible to retrieve data deleted via the Windows formatting tool given time and the right programs.

In order to protect your business’ security, you need to use more comprehensive formatting tools, such as Darik’s Boot and Nuke, also known as DBAN. DBAN writes junk data repeatedly to the hard drive several times over. This scrambles all the data on the drive so as to make it unrecoverable. After downloading the tool, which is available for free, follow the instructions provided. This step will require the most time, depending on how thoroughly you want the drive to be erased. Repeat this process for each data storage drive you will be including in the workstation.


Install Windows

Once the storage drives have been completely erased, Windows can be installed—if you want to install it. If your organization has a volume licensing agreement with Microsoft, you may not want to install Windows onto the machine. Volume licensing agreements typically provide for only a limited number of installations, so using one for a system you will be retiring is not prudent.

If the computer came with or used an OEM or system builder license key, then you should use it to install Windows again and provide it to the purchaser. OEM and system builder license keys cannot be resold or reused with another computer.


Whenever your organization retires a workstation and plans to sell or donate it, be sure to follow the steps above. Doing so will ensure that sensitive data does not get leaked, your business systems hacked, or permanently lose an installation key. The next time you plan to sell an old computer, do so securely and minimize risk.

Photo by Soupmeister, taken from Flickr Creative Commons
Wallace Chu

Author Wallace Chu

A self-professed tech hipster that loves computers and music. Uses an iPhone ironically.

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