To donate computer, erase hard drive first

Q. How do I erase my hard drive safely so that I can donate my computer to a charity?

There are any number of secure erase programs that should do the trick, says Jeff Crume, executive IT security architect at IBM.

“The hard part is in making sure you that you've identified all the traces of sensitive data, which can be like looking for a thousand needles in a million haystacks,” he said.

The safest thing is to do a secure erase of the entire hard drive. You can find free tools at places like and by searching for “secure erase” or “secure delete.”

Joel Broadway, president of CMIT Solutions of Raleigh recommends using disk-cleaning software such as Active@ KillDisk, which offers a free version at and paid versions that meet U.S. Department of Defense standards.

However, there is no way to totally erase the hard drive while also preserving the operating system, he notes, so you'll have to erase the hard drive, then reinstall the operating system.

By the way, even if you're just recycling your computer, be sure to protect yourself by cleaning your personal data off the hard drive if possible using KillDisk or another program.

Security breaches

IBM recently released some disturbing stats in its twice-yearly X-Force IT security report.

Most critically, 94 percent of all browser-related online hacker exploits occur within 24 hours of a system vulnerability being disclosed to the public, according to the report. That means hackers' attacks are on the Internet before people even know they have a vulnerability that needs to be patched in their systems.

Other findings:

Online threats have evolved from the operating system to the Web browser to browser plug-ins, small programs that add features or functions to browsers. In the first six months of 2008, roughly 78 percent of Web browser exploits targeted browser plug-ins.

As online games and virtual communities continue to gain in popularity, they are becoming an enticing target for cyber-criminals. The top four password-stealing Trojans were all aimed at gamers, with the goal being to steal their virtual assets and sell them for real money in online marketplaces.

Last year's complex forms of e-mail spam that used images or file attachments have almost disappeared, and spammers now are using messages that consist of a few simple words and a URL, making it difficult for spam filters to detect. Approximately 90 percent of spam is now URL spam.