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Smut and personal data left on resold PCs

Sex, spies and hard-disk drives

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Seven in 10 re-sold hard-drives and memory cards contain pornographic material, according to research by a UK-based data recovery firm based on the inspection of 1,000 hard disk drives over the last year.

Disklabs knows this because one of the best ways of checking the integrity of files is by viewing images or movies. The firm comes across approximately two paedophile cases per year. These are immediately passed over to the relevant police authorities.

In addition to findings from its regular work, Disklabs recently purchased 100 hard-disk drives and 50 memory cards from eBay and tested a sample batch to find what data was still retrievable from them. Documents such as CVs and accounting spreadsheets (including names and mobile numbers) were easily accessible.

Previous owners regularly failed to delete temporary Internet files either, potentially creating a means for unscrupulous purchasers to access sensitive content in internet caches. Many of the sampled selection also contained pornographic matter.

The research echoes the finding of similar research, such as a study by encryption firm Pointsec last September.

Disklabs director Simon Steggles said that most users remain ignorant of the fact that deleted data can still be easily retrieved. "This research comes as a timely reminder to both consumers and businesses that data should be destroyed properly and not simply deleted or formatted, as this is not sufficient to completely erase stored data," he said.

Disklabs have since contacted all of the owners of the hard-drives and memory cards to inform them that their old media still contained retrievable data. Most of these traders didn't care that their data wasn't wiped properly. In any case, these storage devices have now all been properly wiped and used for further data recovery task by Disklabs. ®

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