Feeds

Disk drive researchers turn up IDs, child porn

Old hard drives handed to police

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Academics wanting to make a point of how careless people are with their personal data have uncovered what they suspect could be pornographic images involving children.

They also discovered details of a US defence contract along with personal information about a defence contractor that could be used for blackmail.

About 300 second hand computer hard disks were bought by researchers wanting to find out how well people protected sensitive data when they got rid of their old hardware.

Two of the drives were suspected of containing "potential paedophile" material, said Andy Jones, head of technology research at BT's security research centre. The drives, one found in Australia and one in Britain, were handed over to the police.

The point of the research was to find out if people were taking care to erase legitimate personal data when they got rid of their old computers; and whether it was possible to steal identities from old hard disks bought down the car boot sale.

Of the readable drives, 49 per cent contained sensitive personal information, found researchers from BT, the Universities of Glamorgan, Wales, and Edith Cowen, Australia and data wiping specialist LifecycleServices.

Jon Godfrey, of Lifecycleservices, said 95 per cent of people fail to properly erase their old hard disks before they throw them out.

"Every hard drive contains so much information about you [criminals] would be able to profile you as a person, your tastes, your habits," he said.

They were encouraged that more than twice the hard disks had been properly wiped compared to those they rifled through when they did the same survey last year. But 60 per cent of the disks were still stuffed with readable data, the research will reveal in the Autumn edition of the Journal of Digital Forensics Security and Law.

Commercial data appeared on 47 per cent, including the complete customer database of a telecoms firm. Another included a bid for a contract to build a US Navy Destroyer - along with embarrassing personal information about the contractor.

"For corporates, it's nothing short of negligence," said Jones. "They've a responsibility of care under the Data Protection Act and responsibility to their shareholders."

Most companies take care to wipe their data from old machines, he said. But some contracted the job out and never checked to see if their recyclers were doing a proper job.

The same topic was tackled from a similar angle by a BBC documentary on Monday. BBC Journalists discovered that computers being thrown into municipal tips were being sorted by councils and sold for reuse in India and Nigeria.

Drives unearthed in markets in such places as Lagos contained enough personal information about people in suburban Britain for their identities to be snatched quite confidently, said the report.®

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
BMW's ConnectedDrive falls over, bosses blame upgrade snafu
Traffic flows up 20% as motorway middle lanes miraculously unclog
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.