Used Hard Drives Offer Treasure Trove Of Private Information - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

Used Hard Drives Offer Treasure Trove Of Private Information

Forensic experts analyzed used hard drives and found porn, driver's license numbers, medical information, and even one man's last will and testament.

Is your company trying to make a little money by selling off its used computers? Or is it trying to do a good deed by giving them away to charities?

A wise IT manager will double-check to make sure those hard drives are wiped clean before they go out the door. But it appears that there are a lot of IT managers who aren't wise.

Steve Peskaitis and Jared Schultz of Fulcrum Inquiry, a forensic examinations and data recovery company, wanted to see how well IT managers are responding to warnings that they need to make sure hard drives are completely cleaned out before getting rid of their computers.

Their analysts went over 70 used hard drives bought from 14 sources and recovered "private information" on 62% of them, according to a company release. Thirty-seven drives, or 53%, contained recoverable information. Only 23, or 33%, had been properly wiped clean.

Fulcrum analysts found driver's license numbers, an image of a birth certificate, one man's will, pornographic images and videos, business expense receipts, patients' medical information, and one man's personal letter to his favorite female celebrity. Pornographic images were found on both personal and business computers, according to a written release.

According to Fulcrum, the size of the hard drive appeared to matter when it came to how well it was cleaned out.

On smaller drives -- ranging from 80 Mbytes to 15 Gbytes -- data was found on 88% of them. On larger drives -- 15 Gbytes to 80 Gbytes -- that rate dropped. Analysts figured that companies viewed the larger machines as more valuable and took the added time and expense to clean them well.

Fulcrum analysts recommend that to properly dispose of data, IT managers should:

  • Low-level format the drives. Don't use the quick format, which may be the default.
  • Use wiping software designed to overwrite information.
  • Physically destroy the media. Don't overlook the effectiveness of a big hammer or very strong magnet.
  • Hire a company to dispose of the drives. Unfortunately, this service may cost more than the value of the drives.

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