January 8, 2009
Study Finds “˜Deleted’ Files Are Easily Recovered
In a study of eight computers purchased from eBay, Which? Computing magazine reported being able to recover 22,000 files, which were considered by their previous owners to have been deleted.
Which? recommended that users completely destroy their old hard drive by smashing it to bits with a hammer. However, experts say that's a drastic move for most computer owners.
Researchers bought eight second-hand hard drives from auction site eBay and found that they still held confidential information. "ËDeleted' information included images, music files and spreadsheets.
According to the report, criminals search for old PCs on online auctions in hopes of recovering personal information that can be sold online to cybercriminals.
"They will pay for specialist software to recover data the original owner had deleted with the hope of finding personal information," Which? reported. "With personal information, they can make a fraudulent credit card application, order a new phone, or even apply for a copy of a birth certificate."
Which? Computing editor Sarah Kidner warned that the risk of falling victim could amount to over $120,000 in losses to an identity fraudster.
There are alternatives to the hammer approach "“ many software tools are available to effectively wipe old hard drives clean. And the hammer technique may not completely destroy the information, experts say.
Expensive and sophisticated techniques could be used to recover deleted data, even from a hard drive platter that has been physically damaged.
Which? Computing recommends that users should avoid storing sensitive data (such as credit card numbers and passwords) on their PC unless it is encrypted.
The report also noted that software approaches such as TuneUp seem to be effective at cleaning information from old hard drives.
For most people, the freely available deleting software or a simple hard drive formatting procedure should make the data sufficiently difficult to retrieve as to not be worth a criminal's time.
"You can get a credit card number on the internet for about ten pounds from credit card thieves," says Rupert Goodwins, editor of technology news website ZDNet.
"So nobody's going to spend more than ten pounds trying to nick your credit card number off your hard disk."
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