Leaving your company? Clean that computer!

Depending on your relationship with your employer, or what you’ve been using your company-owned computer for, you might wish to clean it out before handing it back. This is a basic checklist of some of the stuff you might want to clean out. Obviously, if you have access and the company won’t spit chips, reinstall the entire system from scratch, however for a number of us, administrator rights might prevent this.

Chances are most IT people don’t care and are going to just wipe and reinstall your computer anyway, but it’s a good idea to take some precautions.

I’m not providing complete instructions – this is more a guide so you know what to search for when looking for instructions particular to your own computers.

  1. Clean your browser’s temporary files, cache, saved passwords, everything
    There are too many combinations of operating systems and browsers for me to list complete instructions on how to do this, however a quick Internet search will yield appropriate instructions. Examples include searching for “how to clean temporary internet files in windows 8” and “how to clean temporary internet files from chrome windows 8“. Change your operating system and browser information as appropriate to your computer. (Not sure how? Leave a comment in the comments below)
  2. Backup and/or delete all files
    Depending if you want to take a copy of files because it’s your intellectual property, or you want to cover your ass against any future accusations, make sure you back up your files. Take them from the Documents and Downloads folders from your computer. And make sure you collect any strays from your desktop and other areas where they may have accumulated. Check the Pictures folder for any incriminating images that you may have left behind. Once the backup is complete, delete the files.
  3. Don’t forget to empty the trash!
    No point deleting them all if they are just going to sit in the trash folder – ready for someone to restore and view
  4. Turn off system restore and remove all previous backups
    Whether you are using time-machine on a Mac, or System Restore on Windows, turn it off and delete previous restore backups. A lot of operating system providers will have instructions on their own site – eg. see Windows 7 Instructions on Turning On (or Off) the System Restore Feature
  5. Delete all email
    You might want to backup pst or similar email files (for Outlook), or simply forward key emails to your private account. After you’ve backed up any important emails, go into your email program and delete the emails, and empty the trash folders within your email program. Don’t forget sent mail or any other archives or folders you’ve created.
  6. Turn off and delete all file system indexes
    For one laptop I was working on, I found that Windows XP keeps indexes and previews of files. If I did a file search for Word documents, for example, I could see previews of files that were deleted from the system. I’m not sure how often that refreshes, however I used this tutorial to delete the index. I rebooted and did another search and the cached files didn’t show up in subsequent searches.

In this day and age where anything digital can be copied and used against you, it’s a good idea to make sure that the only legacy you leave behind is a solid reputation that won’t be tarnished by digital detritus.

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