Old Computers, Hackers, Identity Theft, And Cyber Insurance: A Brave New World

If you’re like me, then you probably change computers every three to five years. With web architecture growing more sophisticated and pushing Macs and PCs beyond their power limits, it’s wise from a productivity standpoint to keep your work computer “fresh” at the very least. But whenever you add a new piece of technology, it’s important not to overlook the question of what becomes of the old one.

Amid a growing call for cyber insurance and protection from identity theft, our friends at Allstate have released a new tip sheet on how to properly dispose of your old computer. This may not be something you’ve given much thought to, but you ignore at your own peril. Read on to learn more.


Backing Up Files

Your old computer probably has passwords, bank account information, tax records, and your Social Security number on it. All these things will be essential as you transfer to a new computer. Make sure you’ve got all the pertinent details backed up — either online or offline and preferably both — before getting rid of the old computer.


Go Beyond Deletion

It’s not enough to simply delete files from your hard drive. As Allstate notes, even if you move everything to the Recycle Bin on your computer and click “Empty Trash,” savvy hackers and identity thieves can still retrieve it. Rather than simply deleting everything, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) advises you to use a special program that wipes the drive and overwrites files multiple times. This makes it next to impossible for your pertinent information to wind up in the wrong hands. But what programs should you be using? Microsoft recommends Active@KillDisk and Softpedia DPWiper.


Pick A Place

Once the drive is clean, you can sell it to a company that refurbishes and sells old computers, you can give it to a friend, or you can destroy it. Whatever you decide to do, “know that the companies that sponsor these programs recommend removing all the data from your computer before you send it off to its new home.”

“If your needs are pretty basic, and you plan to sell or pass the device along, overwriting your data with a program might do the trick,” Allstate writes. “But, if you’re looking for the ultimate protection – and peace of mind – you just might find that nothing short of a hammer will do.”

As in pow, pow, pow.


To Cover The Bases…

If you’re concerned that you haven’t done enough to protect your identity and information, there is also the choice of purchasing cyber insurance. Usually you just hear about companies like Target doing this because — the logic goes — they’re more lucrative prey for hackers and identity thieves. Check the overconfidence at the door. Cyber crooks don’t really care whom they exploit. They look for easy targets, whether you’re an established small business or simply have an eCommerce store online.

According to Nasdaq, you need cyber insurance if the following information fits your situation.

“The more business you transact online, the more likely you are to experience a serious, disabling breach,” Nasdaq writes. “Obviously, for some businesses, like banks and hospitals, the consequences of these breaches are more serious and wide-reaching than others. Still, if you have any kind of online store – even if it’s a small supplement to a brick-and-mortar operation – or you store any customer or employee data on a network, you should probably consider some level of protection.

“It may come as a surprise, but smaller businesses can suffer more damaging consequences from data breaches than larger ones, especially when it comes to business interruption. In addition, there may be fewer employees to handle the fall-out. While the premiums will take a bigger chunk out of your bottom line, they may also benefit you more.”

Individuals are usually protected to an extent through their banks and credit cards, but it can be a major hassle sorting out the details.


In Summary

Your old computers may be simple junk to you, but to hackers and identity thieves, they’re a treasure trove of information. Especially if you run a business, you need to take the proper steps for disposing of these items and also consider purchasing a cyber insurance policy. It can help you mitigate risk; obtain reimbursement for staffing, paperwork, and legal expenses; and offset other losses incurred due to business interruption. As with most types of insurance, you hope you’ll never need it, but it can be a lifesaver when you do.

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