This guide is intended for anyone selling or intending to sell a hard drive, or any type of re-useable computer storage media
eBay is a great place to sell components you no longer need, to raise some extra money, get rid of surplus bits and pieces following an upgrade, whatever.
You've bought a new hard drive. You format your old one, remove it and in goes your shiny new super fast mega storage.
You list the old drive on eBay, "In perfect working order. Formatted." etc. It sells and away goes your old drive in the post to it's new owner.
What have you just posted? A hard drive, right? Just a computer component, metal, discs, electronics that's all.
Did you format the drive using your operating system's format option or even a third party's format software? Were you impressed by how quickly it was accomplished? Computers really save us time don't they?
Then, along with the metal, discs and electonics, you have also just posted every file and piece of information that was on that hard drive before you formatted it.
Don't believe me?
A couple of weeks ago I received my subscription copy of a popular and highly regarded computer magazine. Included in the software DVD was a programme that enables you to recover deleted files from any type of storage media.
I have a hard drive that failed a while ago and thought I might use this software to see if I could retreive the files on that drive. I installed the free software and, to try it out, I loaded a formatted used Zip disc from a lot of 50 I'd just bought.
To say I was surprised at what I discovered is a gross understatement.
On the first disc were over 1500 files, all recoverable and fully readable. I trawled through the whole pile of Zip discs.
I could have recovered over 2 gigabytes of files! Every type of file was there, word documents, excel spreadsheets, full executable programmes, operating system files, video and audio files and yes, naughty pictures. There were CV's, job applications, a photocopy of a pay slip with NI number. Names, addresses, email addresses, a bank account number/sort code.......
In the space of one day I could have recovered enough personal information to make any criminal think it was Christmas.
Identity theft? Blackmail? Set up a false identity? No problem. There are, I'm sure, many other possible uses that someone with a criminal mind set would think of.
I have now securely formatted these discs and not kept any of the files.
So the next time you plan on selling your used hard drive, whatever, make sure you securely erase the data on it.
Use one of the many software tools freely available for download. Darik's Boot and Nuke is a good one and it's free. Don't be fooled by misleading statements like, military/FBI/government grade erasure, that's just fluff designed to make you part with your money for their software. Just because you paid for it doesn't mean it's better.
To securely erase a hard disc takes time, but what's a few hours compared to what could happen to you if you just choose to 'format' instead?
The true bottom line is that it's almost impossible to completely delete the information. But if you use a tool like the one mentioned above you can be sure that the data is going to be extremely difficult to retrieve. Even then it will need specialist tools and knowledge to be able to re-construct any files.
Far too difficult for most criminals to bother. They'll just move on to the next drive that contains all that juicy information that was 'deleted' by a simple format.
Be warned! Be safe!
The Security Issues of Selling Used Computer Drives
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5 September 2006
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