Deleted data on used hard disks still retrievable

November 6th, 2008 - 5:01 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 6 (IANS) A huge quantity of sensitive data is still on decommissioned computer hard disks, sold in the second-hand mart by corporations, organisations and individuals.The study said that this data represents a significant level of risk for commercial sabotage, identity theft, and even political compromise, and suggest that better education is essential to reduce the risk of harm.

It is not well known among computer users that simply deleting a file from the hard disk does not actually remove it from the computer but simply deletes its entry in the index for the hard drive.

To remove all traces of a file requires the actual data to be wiped using “digital shredding” software. Such software is readily available and should be run on a priority by individuals, companies and organisations intending to pass on their legacy computer hardware to third parties, according to an Inderscience release.

“The research revealed that a significant proportion of the disks that were examined still contained considerable amounts of information, much of which would have been of a sensitive nature to the organization or individual that had previously owned the disk,” the researchers explained.

The team added that the percentage of disks that have been effectively wiped had fallen significantly, from 45 percent to 33 percent, since the previous year’s survey. “With only 33 percent of working second-hand disks having been effectively wiped, it is reasonable to comment that this is an area where there is significant potential for improvement,” they say.

They made several recommendations for improved data security and suggest that public awareness campaigns by government, the media, commerce and/or academia ought to be run to help reduce the risk of sensitive data entering the information black-market.

Andrew Jones, head of Information Security Research, British Telecommunications, working with Glenn Dardick of Longwood University, Virginia and colleagues Craig Valli, of Edith Cowan University, Western Australia, and Iain Sutherland of the University of Glamorgan, UK, have analysed data that remained on a number of second hand hard disks.

The entire 2007 study is being published in International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry. The team is now completing the 2008 analysis and will announce those results shortly as well.

However, the initial results for the 2008 study show that there is still a long way to go regarding the decommissioning of computer hard disk drives.

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