Discarded Data

By Eileen Feretic  |  Posted Monday, April 30, 2012 17:04 PM

By Tim Moran

Digital data and devices, which make much about the modern world easier and better, still manage to make life somewhat more complicated. Case in point: Have you ever disposed of, given away or sold anything that contained a hard drive?

If you did, were you clever enough to wipe the hard drive's data before doing so? If you didn't, you're not alone, according to a recent survey by Britain's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). Its suggestion: Take better care of your data.

To find out the state of data on discarded drives, the organization asked a computer forensics company to get about 200 hard drives, 20 memory sticks and 10 mobile phones. The company did that, mostly from Internet auctions and computer trade fairs.

The devices were then searched--first without any added software and then with data forensics tools. The result: While "52 percent of the hard drives investigated were unreadable or had been wiped of data, 48 percent contained information, and 11 percent was personal data."

While the numbers are telling, what's really stunning is that ICO reports that "at least two of the hard drives contained enough information to enable someone to steal the former owner's identity. The residual documents included scanned bank statements." One of the other drives contained sensitive information about employees and clients of four organizations, along with individuals' health and financial details.

By way of an associated survey, ICO found that an alarming "one in 10 people who have ever disposed of a mobile phone, computer or laptop said that they had never deleted information held on a device before disposing of it, potentially allowing their data to be accessed by the next person who used it."

As an IT professional, you are undoubtedly well aware of these kinds of issues. I was not. I have given away old computers and smartphones with lord knows what on them. Luckily, my bank account is not worth breaking into; and should anybody want to steal my identity--well, to paraphrase the old-time comic Henny Youngman: "Take my life--please!"