Users still not wiping data from unwanted PCs

A fifth of secondhand PCs finding their way onto the resale market still contain sensitive data on their hard discs.

A fifth of secondhand PCs finding their way onto the resale market still contain sensitive data on their hard discs.

Research by BT, the University of Glamorgan in Wales and Edith Cowan University in Australia, has found that while 41% of the disks were unreadable, 20% contained sufficient information to identify individuals.

The research, based on the acquisition of 300 PCs from auctions, computer fairs and on-line purchases, also found that 5% of the machines held commercial information on organisations, and that 5% held “illicit data”.

Some of the information contained on the disks included payroll information, mobile telephone numbers, copies of invoices, employee names and photos, IP addresses, network information, illicit audio and video files, and financial details including bank and credit card accounts.

This is the second year running the research has been conducted. The researchers say, that while the results show that there has been an improvement in the number of owners properly erasing data, a large number of the discs examined still contained significant volumes of sensitive information.

Despite widening security awareness, more regulations and significant publicity, organisations are still not modifying their procedures to ensure that information is effectively removed before computer discs are disposed of, said the researchers.

Dr Andy Jones, BT head of security technology research, said, “When organisations dispose of surplus and obsolete computers and hard drives they must ensure that, whether they are handled by internal resources or through a third party contractor, adequate procedures are in place to destroy any data and also to check that the procedures that are in place are effective.”

The PCs examined were obtained in the UK, Australia, North America and Germany.

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