Kroll Ontrack recently carried out a global security study that indicated we are putting our personal information at risk far too easily. The data recovery company analysed used drives to see if any traces of data remained after the previous owners sold them. Among the drives examined, traces of data were found on nearly half. Many of these innocent oversights allowed the new owners critical access into the previous owners' identity.
Despite user efforts to erase data, it can often be recovered if not done properly. This makes selling personal digital devices a matter of identity protection. The study involved an international scope, with a diverse array of countries taking part: the US, Germany, France, Italy, the Asia-Pacific region, Poland and the UK.
For the campaign, Kroll Ontrack purchased 64 drives from various sources over eBay (private sellers/consumers) and analysed whether the used drives had been successfully wiped clean or still contained any traces of data. The study found that traces of data remained on 30 drives (47 per cent), while the remaining 34 drives had been successfully cleaned (53 per cent).
However, the likelihood of finding access to personal information was not the most concerning finding, but rather how sensitive that information often was. For the careless or uninformed user, selling personal data devices is little more than selling your identity.
The case of one drive epitomised the danger of identifying data traces. The drive had belonged to a company that used a service provider to erase and resell old drives. Despite that, the drive still contained a wealth of highly sensitive information, including user names, home addresses, phone numbers and credit card details. It contained an employee list of around 100 names that included information about work experience, job titles, phone numbers, language abilities, vacation dates and a I MB offline address book.
The devil in the details
18 of the 64 drives examined were found to contain critical or highly critical personal information. Nearly a third (21 drives) contained personal photos, private documents, emails, videos, wedding photos, audio or music. User account information was discovered on eight drives, including log-in data such as first name and last name, contact details, email address, online account names and passwords.
Transactional data was recovered from nearly every seventh drive (9 drives). This included company names, salary statements, credit...