It is not the whole computer that you need to worry about, it is about the storage of data in the computer. The storage of data is on your hard drive in your computer. It is also VERY IMPORTANT to realize that computers are NOT the only devices that you need to remove sensitive information from before they leave your office.
There was a recent case where Affinity Health Care paid a large fine for letting photocopy machines out the door with patient information on the hard drives in the copy machines. So the advice we are providing below is appropriate for any and all devices that may contain patient information including but not limited to computers, copy machines, fax machines and printers.
There are two good ways to give a computer away without risking exposing patient data to unauthorized individuals. Those methods include:
• Sanitize the disk using NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Standards, see http://www.nist.gov and look at special publication 800-88 for guidance on this issue. This may involve working with an IT specialist. Another published standard is DoD 5220.22-M which has Department of Defense standards for wiping data. There are many methods of sanitizing a disk. One is to wipe the disk completely according to the standards mentioned. A good software tool for sanitizing hard disks is Active Killdisk (www.killdisk.com) this is not the only one and you can find others with a simple Google search.
• Remove the hard drive from the computer before giving it away and either put a new hard drive in the computer or have the person receiving the computer install the new hard drive. Once the disk has been removed shred the disk using a service that meets the NIST or DOD standards.
In either of these cases, the process will render the computer unusable because the disk will no longer contain an operating system. You will need to use the license key(s) that came with your computer or you purchased to re-install the operating system and any other software. But you will now have a computer that you can safely give away. If you are disposing of the computer you do not need to re-install the software. You can just throw it away safely once the hard drive has been removed.