USA Today ran an article last year about consumers cleaning and organizing their homes during the pandemic. The author stated that many homeowners were clearing our closets, garages, and attics and listing items on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace or donating their electronic devices.
One problem that many homeowners were facing was that when they were discarding their electronic devices, they were forgetting or not properly deleting their personal information. And it wasn’t just individuals that were making this often-costly mistake. A security researcher, Josh Frantz, purchased 85 devices from businesses that sold refurbished, donated, and used computers. He purchased desktops, laptops, flash drives, memory cards, hard drives, and cell phones.
Of the 85 purchased devices, only 2 were properly wiped of data. The other 83 devices held 214,019 images, 148,903 emails and 3,406 documents. From all that, he was able to see email addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and credit card numbers. These devices were donated by consumers and businesses that thought their information would be safe. The reseller used in this case had no vested interest in securing their customer’s information and were most likely not licensed. Their interest was in making money in the resale. That means that a proper data wipe, or better yet, a full destruction, would either take away from the profit margin, or delete it completely.
When a file is deleted, your operating system removes the file’s link and marks the space as free. Until it’s overwritten, the information is still there. For many small to midsize businesses that think they are either donating their equipment to a worthy organization, or handing it over to a recycler for free, this technical knowledge could be critical.
There are ways to fully erase data from your devices, and individuals should absolutely do that before donating any device that had memory or has been connected to their home wifi. Businesses need to be even more diligent, however. Business information, customer information, and employee data is still on copiers, computers, hard drives, and back up drives. Is it worth the risk to your business to trust a reseller to erase that? A total device destruction is the only guarantee that your business data is secure. Shredding your business’s hard drives means that the device, and the data, is 100% non-recoverable.