Far out Friday: Ditched hard-drives disturb new users

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Advisers beware: take care of your private business before giving your hard drive up for adoption, or you could find yourselves receiving the hard stick of the law. 

A two-month long Australian study commissioned by global, non-profit data protection watchdog the National Association for Information Destruction (NAID), has resulted in disturbing revelations in information left behind on recycled hard drives.

The agency purchased 52 recycled computer hard drives from publicly available sources and found that a jaw-dropping 30% contained highly-sensitive, confidential, and personal information.

Information included spreadsheets of clients’ and account holders’ personal information, including names, addresses, account numbers, confidential client correspondence, billing information, and personal medical information such as diagnoses, treatment, and prognoses.

Where the computer hard drives had been previously owned by an individual they more often contained their most confidential personal details, including images of a highly personal nature and account information. 

Another troubling finding was that often, where personal information was found, there were telltale indications that someone had attempted to remove the information but failed to effectively do so.

The study also found full life insurance client listings and superannuation applications, as part of the material found on second hand hard drives, being sold on online auction sites.

When the new Privacy Act reforms go live on 12 March this year, ditching your drive without deleting data could spell disaster.

 Mario Bekes, Insight Intelligence’s managing director, said proper removal of data from computer hard drives requires more than just pressing the delete button.

“Even if they try to do it properly, private individuals and businesses take a big risk by attempting to erase hard drives themselves. It is not really a  do-it-  yourself project.”
 
Instead he encourages people to carefully choose a trusted and serious recycling service.

While a study of 52 recycled hard drives may not seem hugely momentous, if you apply this logic to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' most recent estimates, which put the number of annual retired computers at over 15 million, the implications are staggering.

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