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A computer hard drive, containing confidential data from the Brandenburg police in Germany, has been auctioned over eBay for €20, according to a report by Spiegel, a leading weekly German newspaper. It was bought by a student.

The used 20GB hard drive capacity contained, according to Spiegel, internal alarm plans on how the Police should handle "specific incidences" such as hostage or kidnapping situations, gave contact names of who to contact in the crisis management group, and tactical orders and analysis of political security situations.

According to the report, such information is strictly confidential and should be available only to top level people of the intelligence services, the head of police, and the executive group around the Minister of Interior Schönbohm.

After a student from the city of Potsdam bought it for €20, without knowing about the sensitive content, Minister Jörg Schönbohm immediately initiated an investigation, to find out how the information ended up being sold over eBay and whether the blame was down to a third party or leaked as part of a criminal act.

This oversight by the Brandenburg Police is not the first time a hard drive sold over eBay has triggered a security breach and publicly exposed an organisation.

Last summer, mobile security specialists Pointsec conducted research to find out how many hard drives they could buy over eBay containing sensitive company information to prove the point that very few companies thoroughly wipe clean or re-format their discs before disposing of them. The first one they bought over eBay for just €8 contained the access and log-in codes to a major financial services group.

Pointsec found that they were able to read seven out of 10 hard drives bought over the internet at auctions such as eBay, for less than the cost of a McDonald's meal, all of which had supposedly been wiped-clean or re-formatted.

Peter Larsson, CEO of Pointsec Mobile Technologies, said "Even when companies or individuals believe they have wiped the hard drive clean, it is blatantly clear how easy it is to retrieve sensitive information from them both during their current lifetime and beyond it."

He added that this week's exposure of leaked and highly critical information from the Brandenburg police in Germany "reinforces how important it is to never let mobile devices or hard drives leave the office without being adequately protected with encryption and strong password protection – even after they have been discarded."

Pointsec recommends that, if the data on your old equipment is not encrypted, make sure that you re-format the device at least eight times before disposal, or use professional "wiping-clean" software to erase the data. It adds that, if the information is very sensitive and you want to ensure that not even the cleverest hacker will ever be able to read the old hard drive, burn it.

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