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NIH Adopts Computer Sanitization Policy — Prevent Embarrassing Memories!

By Cheryl Ann Seaman

Have you ever bought something at an auction or garage sale, and when you got home found that it still contained somebody's personal stuff (financial receipts, shopping lists, maybe love letters)? Well, that's somewhat analogous to donating a government computer with a hard disk that still contains scientific databases, sensitive personnel information, or perhaps medical records from that time you were a research study volunteer. In an effort to prevent this from happening, NIH has established a policy that all computer hard disks must be sanitized before they are surplused, transferred or donated. The policy went into effect June 12.

It is important to sanitize hard disks because deleting information stored on our computers doesn't ensure its erasure from the disk. The new policy (at outlines the sanitization requirements for various systems (including diskettes, tapes, CD-ROMs) and states that systems will not be picked up for surplus or transfer outside of an IC if they do not have a signed certification form attached. In addition, computers being donated to an outside organization must have a complete operating system installed after sanitization to ensure their usefulness.

Contact your information systems security officer (ISSO — a roster is located at prior to getting rid of any computer equipment to get assistance in properly performing the cleansing task and for obtaining an approved wipeout or formatting utility. CIT has provided a sanitizing program, available via the CIT web page at or through TASC at 594-6248, for Macintosh and Windows-based systems. Your ISSO or his/her designee will sign the requisite certification form. The Scientific Equipment and Instrumentation Branch (SEIB) provides sanitization services to the NIH community (on and off campus) for a fee and can be reached at 496-4131. SEIB will respond within 24 hours. This service costs $79/hour and is charged in 15-minute increments.

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