How To Start Fresh And Stay Safe With A New Device

The New Year signals the kickoff of the great gadget migration, when our once-beloved devices become hand-me-downs. Reusing perfectly good electronics is always better than trashing them, but it is important to take a few sensible, yet crucial precautions before passing on that smartphone, tablet or PC. Likewise, if you are the lucky recipient of someone else’s generous donation, there are a couple of steps to take before you truly make it your own.

Do a thorough backup

At one point or another, we’ve all lost or deleted an important file, photo or other sensitive information. To keep that from happening to you, before you clear out a device to pass it along, make sure your music, movies, photos, contacts, notes, texts and all other digital detritus are copied and safe. You can do this by conducting a full backup.

Many of us have backups for much of our data performed automatically via cloud-based services for our smartphones and tablets — Android, iOS and Windows devices all offer free solutions. It is also important to know what data is backed up, where it is saved, how to recover it and any passwords used to keep prying eyes out. If you have ever configured your device using a computer, hooking it up directly via a cable, then that’s an easy way to do it, as well.

Reusing perfectly good electronics is always better than trashing them.

For desktops or laptops, you will want to make sure you have a full copy of all your data when transferring anything over to a new device. For Apple devices, you can use a USB hard drive and the included Time Machine software to copy your old data to an external hard drive and to transfer it to a new device. Similarly, Windows PCs have the built-in ability to copy your entire hard drive. There also are several cloud services available to keep your PC and Mac data backed up.

Decouple your device

While it would seem logical that wiping a hard drive would essentially make it a new gadget, there are a fair number of programs and services lurking deep on your device that may cause hiccups later. Before you pass on a device, make sure you have logged out of every service you use and de-authorize that device to be associated with each account. This includes messaging accounts like Skype and iMessage; storage and backup programs like Dropbox; media and streaming services like iTunes; games, productivity software and especially security software.

There are a number of cases where such applications persist on an old device and cause trouble down the line. For instance, if iMessage has continued sending to old devices or applications it could lock you out on your new device because they are copy controlled.

Destroy your data

There is a misconception among many of us that simply deleting all the folders and files off your desktop does something meaningful. It turns out that deleting user accounts doesn’t clean out your data from your device, and so before giving away a device — or before you load up a hand-me-down device with your data — you need to do a full cleanup of the device.

Once backed up, here are some good sources to help clean your devices, prior to gifting them:

  • Apple iOS devices – Amongst the easiest, and most foolproof; iOS has a built-in secure erase. Apple has information at their support site.
  • Apple Mac laptops – Depends on the OS, but there is usually a robust erase process. For an example of how to do this, visit Apple’s support. For Lion, see here.
  • Android devices – Not as uniform as iOS, but most versions of Android have an erase function either in “Backup and Reset (factory reset),” “Storage” or “Settings/Privacy” — check your device’s manufacturer website for information.
  • Windows Phone – Microsoft maintains instructions on their site for specific versions and models; for examples, see here.
  • Windows PCs – Often the hardest systems to wipe clean, Microsoft offers some advice regarding erasing your hard disk on their site.

Sterilize your hand-me-downs

When you receive a used device, first be thankful for the generous gift — what a score! However, it could potentially be completely riddled with malware, which requires you to take steps to sterilize it. That’s not a judgement of the gift giver, it’s just they may have no idea what’s lurking on their hard drive. And neither do you. For smartphones and tablets, that means taking the steps above and fully wiping a device so that it’s factory fresh.

Our gadgets have become an essential part of our daily lives, holding a treasure trove of valuable information that can fall vulnerable if not properly secured.

For a laptop or desktop, things are modestly more complicated. The smartest possible course of action is to remove the hard drive and install a new one, as it’s the only way to know with complete confidence that your device will be malware-free.

Another recommendation is to reinstall everything prior to your next upgrade. Note that you’ll need to own or purchase a complete install copy of your operating system of choice, along with copies of any software you use. It may be worth consulting a local tech support service to see if they can do everything for an affordable price.

If that’s not possible, at the very least, take the steps above to securely wipe a laptop before loading it with all your data.

Our gadgets have become an essential part of our daily lives, holding a treasure trove of valuable information that can fall vulnerable if not properly secured. This season, be sure that along with your gadgets, the only thing you gift or get is good cheer.