How to pre­pare a Mac for sale or a re­turn to an em­ployer

When you need to give up or sell a Mac, how can you make sure you keep what you need and leave a wiped ma­chine?

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY GLENN FLEISHMAN

When it’s time to give up a Mac, you typ­i­cally don’t want to give up its se­crets—your pri­vate and per­sonal data—when it goes. This can be at the time you sell it, or, in the case of Mac­world reader Dane, when you leave a job and you need to re­turn the Mac to your em­ployer. (You might be asked to re­turn a com­puter even while you keep a job, too, of course.)

Not pre­par­ing a com­puter be­fore you re­turn it can some­times have con­se­quences. A friend re­turned a work ma­chine and was even­tu­ally paid a visit by po­lice. His pre­vi­ous em­ployer had

ex­am­ined the web his­tory of the com­puter re­turned, and found a set of searches about news and travel they de­cided were sus­pi­cious but that had been con­ducted in­no­cently and separately by dif­fer­ent mem­bers of the house­hold.


If it’s your own com­puter, here are the eas­i­est set of steps you can take to prep the ma­chine.

> Make a clone via Su­perduper! ( go. mac­, Car­bon Copy Cloner ( go.mac­, or Disk Utility (while booted into macos Re­cov­ery [ go. mac­]), or choose to start a Time Ma­chine backup to make sure you have all the lat­est data. You can then mi­grate it to a new Mac, or keep it on hand for later re­trieval.

> If you have a firmware pass­word set ( go.mac­, re­move it.

> Boot into macos Re­cov­ery and erase the drive via Disk Utility, then re­in­stall the lat­est ver­sion of macos the com­puter can han­dle. (See “More on Era­sure,” be­low.)

> Set up a ba­sic ac­count you can hand over to the next owner.

> Restart to make sure that ev­ery­thing works as ex­pected.


If it’s a work com­puter, you may be in a tricky po­si­tion if you back up all the data, as you may be re­tain­ing in­for­ma­tion that your em­ployer con­sid­ers pro­pri­etary or a trade se­cret. In some states and cir­cum­stances, even if you never in­tended to do any­thing with the data, just the pos­ses­sion of it could wind up be­ing a prob­lem. (This is not le­gal ad­vice, but you can find many news sto­ries in which re­ten­tion of data with­out in­tent still causes peo­ple le­gal costs and lots of trou­ble.)

This means you should first get rid of any data re­lated to the busi­ness that you’re sure you or your em­ployer has copies of. For to­tal clar­ity, you might con­sult with your em­ployer or the IT depart­ment about what data they want to re­tain and make sure that’s copied off the Mac.

It’s most likely you have doc­u­ments scat­tered in a few places, de­pend­ing on how you’ve used the Mac.

Mail is the most dif­fi­cult to man­age. Any mes­sages stored in Ap­ple Mail in the On My Mac sec­tion of the Mail­box left­nav­i­ga­tion bar will be deleted when you erase the Mac, as they’re no longer stored on the mail server. I rec­om­mend, after con­firm­ing all work mes­sages are ap­pro­pri­ately copied else­where, re­mov­ing the work email ac­counts from Mail, and then delet­ing any work email fold­ers from On My Mac.

Once that’s done and you’ve emp­tied the Mail trash, you can copy your mail to a

backup drive or over a net­work. You don’t need to do this for any mes­sages stored on your var­i­ous ac­count servers. Ap­ple of­fers in­struc­tions for ex­port­ing mail­boxes ( go.mac­, but you can also dive into ~/Li­brary/mail/ (in the Fin­der, choose Go → Go To Folder, and paste that path in). You can copy the folder start­ing with V (V5 for the lat­est ver­sion of Mail) and then im­port those mail­boxes on a dif­fer­ent Mac. You can find more ad­vice on this in a re­cent col­umn I wrote about re­cov­er­ing mail ( go. mac­

Now look at other lo­ca­tions in your Home ac­count and Shared fold­ers, like Doc­u­ments, Down­loads, Movies, Mu­sic, and Pic­tures.

Once you’re sure you’ve copied ev­ery­thing for work and your­self, you can carry out steps 2 to 5 above, and then re­turn the com­puter.


For­mat­ting a com­puter drive isn’t the same as eras­ing all the data from it. Rather, Disk Utility (and sim­i­lar apps for other op­er­at­ing sys­tems) just change all the cat­a­logs and other de­tails that track where the data was. It re­mains in place, and can be found in frag­ments or as whole files via data-re­cov­ery tools or spe­cial­ized foren­sics ones.

> If you have Fil­e­vault en­abled, you don’t need to worry. Eras­ing the drive via Disk Utility dis­cards the en­cryp­tion key used to en­code data, and it ef­fec­tively makes all your files un­re­cov­er­able. Good job!

> SSDS store data in a man­ner that’s de­signed to keep wear even on the mem­ory cells that made up solid-state stor­age. As a re­sult, once a drive is re­for­mat­ted and a sub­stan­tial amount of new data writ­ten to it, the old in­for­ma­tion is dif­fi­cult to im­pos­si­ble to re­trieve. (This is why it’s crit­i­cal to use Fil­e­vault from the start with SSDS and hy­brid Ssd/hard drives like Fu­sion Drives, to make it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble.)

> Disk Utility of­fers a se­cure erase op­tion when for­mat­ting a drive (click the Se­cu­rity Op­tions button), but this is only rec­om­mended for hard-disk drives. ■

For hard-disk drives, you can use se­cure erase to over­write data re­peat­edly and ren­der it ef­fec­tively im­pos­si­ble to re­cover.

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