Whether we like it or not, our laptops handle an incredible amount of personal information. They know a lot about us – our email addresses, passwords, payment details and can even keep a digital footprint of every website we visit.
Plus, as the lines between our personal and work lives continue to blur, so does our use of company devices. In fact, a recent survey revealed that over 50% of people use their work devices for personal use too. This could very well be the start of a security nightmare for businesses given the amount of sensitive client data many of us handle day to day.
It’s often said that employees are the weakest link in any company’s security strategy. So without knowing whether employees have been checking their email, listening to music or simply browsing the web on their work laptop, it’s a good idea to be cautious before letting that device back onto your company network. So what can be done?
Wiping a laptop before returning it to the office
Whether a stint of remote working is coming to an end or someone is off to pastures new, a laptop wipe is one way of keeping cyber security and data security headaches at bay. But before you go looking for that clean slate, there are a few things to consider:
- Is there any business-critical information you need to keep?
- Is there any information saved on there you may need at a later date?
- Is there any personal information that you wish to delete?
If you’re the employee in this situation, it’s best to check with your IT department for guidance on what to do next. Once you’ve got the all-clear, you can start the digital cleanse.
Back up any necessary data
First things first, any information you may need in the future needs to be backed up. If you don’t, it’ll be impossible to retrieve locally saved files after. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.
When it comes to backing up your data you have a few options: an external hard drive, a USB drive or backing up to the cloud. The best method for you will often be dictated by how much storage space you need and your company’s existing information security policies.
For example, many companies handling sensitive customer data will have rules about removable storage devices and when they can and can’t be used. If in doubt, check with your IT department.
Remove personal information without wiping your laptop
There are some situations and indeed industries that won’t thank you for wiping your laptop before handing it back. If this is the case in your business, it might be that you can scrub much personal information off the laptop without doing a full wipe.
First, look for obviously personal files. This might be photos, videos or gifs you’ve saved. Your personal drive and downloads folder are good places to start here, looking for file types .jpg, .png, .gif, .wav to name just a few. It’s also a good idea to delete any programs which you have installed over the course of using your work laptop if they’re not for business use.
Finally, head over to your favourite web browser. Clear any saved passwords, addresses and auto-fill data and give your browser history a complete wipe.
Wipe your laptop’s hard drive
The process for wiping your laptop differs slightly depending on which operating system it runs. Here’s a brief rundown of a few of the most popular ones.
How to wipe a Windows laptop
To wipe your Windows laptop, first check which version of Windows you are running. If you’re running Windows 8, head to Start > Settings > Change PC settings. You can then choose to ‘Remove everything’ and install a new version of Windows afterwards.
If running Windows 10, there is a built-in set of instructions you can follow. An easy way to get there is to type ‘Reset PC’ into the search bar in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen and select the ‘Reset this PC’ option. If you then select the ‘Get Started’ button, your laptop will walk you through the reset process. Select ‘Remove everything’ for a full wipe.
How to wipe a Mac
To wipe your Mac, you’ll need to find and open Disk Utility. This can be accessed by holding down the Command + R keys as the laptop boots up. This will allow you to erase your Mac’s primary drive once you select the Erase tab. Note: if you’re running an operating system that’s older than Lion, you’ll need to use a system disk too. You can check this in Settings.
How to wipe a Chromebook
If you’re in a position where you can wipe your Chromebook (i.e. it is not managed by your employer or you are the administrator) select the ‘Powerwash’ option in Settings. This will factory reset the Chromebook and erase all information off its hard drive.
A final laptop wipe before handing it over
Finally, it’s a nice touch to give the laptop a physical cleanse to go with its digital one. Use a soft microfibre cloth, wipes or compressed air to clean out the keyboard and give the screen and trackpad a good clean. Say hello to a clean, fresh laptop in every sense of the word.
Computers in the City, your IT partner
Computers in the City is London’s longest-standing IT partner. With over 20 years’ experience, we can assist you to meet your IT support, consulting and cloud computing needs. We’re proud to be local, offering 24-hour support in straightforward language that takes the stress out of IT support.