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ID theft danger from discarded computer equipment

Life Cycle Services (LCS) : 14 September, 2007  (Technical Article)
Life Cycle Services reminds users of the dangers of discarding equipment that may contain data sources regardless of its condition
The ubiquitous presences of computer data seems to have no bounds. Hard Disk drives are found in computers, set top boxes, games machines, cameras, PDA's, medical equipment an even photocopiers and fax machines. Each and every one stores a detailed personal profile of its users.

The last thing on one's mind as a cancer patient is personal data security. However; as the study by Glamorgan University's Forensic Science team has shown even here personal data is leaking and can be bought and sold on the open market. Dudley Group of Hospitals NHS Trust found one of their old disks had been sold on eBay and has no idea how it got there. In the study sponsored by BT and Life Cycle Services they found 62% contained company records, personal information, financial data and paedophile material which has resulted in a police investigation in Wales.

Jon Godfrey, the Managing Director of Life Cycle Services who specialise in residual data destruction thinks this problem is set to grow. "Over the past three years the study has shown a slight reduction in the proportion of drives containing data. But this is not the true picture. We must consider the increase both in the size of the drives and the massive increase in their use. The volume of data being leaked has increased massively".

Godfrey believes the problem is set to get far worst and personal data breaches far more common.

"There is a huge growth in personal identity theft and this is one source of high quality personal data." said Godfrey. "We have already seen discarded data turning up for sale in a street market Nigeria which was discarded at a local household tip in Essex".

LCS has found that over 50% of failed hard drives are repaired and almost all contain the residual data from the previous user. In the Glamorgan study and with no more than a screwdriver a hard drive was opened up, the heads re-set and the drive functioned perfectly. It included highly sensitive personal data. The disk previously belonged to a consultant in the advertising or media industry. It revealed both commercial data including emails, customer data, financial information along with a considerable amount of pornography.

Yesterday Godfrey called for a national accreditation scheme those organisations that are destroying data to the new standard. "It's high time that organisations recognise that their critical data is being thrown out with their old equipment for anybody to misuse. Data has a much longer shelf life then the systems on which it sits. Deleting or re-formatting hard drives does not erase the data. A national accreditation to the new standard could be backed up by a destruction guarantee," said Godfrey.

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