Second-Hand Hard Drives Lead to Identity Theft

The world of technology is advancing at an alarming rate and people find electronic devices the easiest means to store information. In fact, computers are primarily where all sensitive data goes. Your whole world and identity can easily be accessed through your computer, or even just your hard drive. Even big companies suffer this, as discarding their hard drives in the wrong way could see cooperate data made public or passed on to criminals.

People have become increasingly wary about security when it comes to the internet due to multiple news pieces about wide-scale cyber hacks of large corporations’ websites, as well as identity theft on a staggering scale on certain internet platforms.

While it’s recommended to be careful with personal details when surfing the world wide web, there’s an increasing amount of neglect of local computers, where all this information and more is located. Computers contain our personal details, sensitive information, and a treasure trove of data that can cause substantial damage in the wrong hands. This can be more troublesome than letting certain things slip to the internet – one’s whole life could be accessed from a personal computer.

Identity Theft

Identify theft happens when a criminal gains access to personal information such as your date of birth, ID numbers, and other sensitive details and uses it to assume your identity to make online purchases, telephone transactions, or take out lines of credit in your name, such as opening a credit card account. In many cases, seriously sensitive information can be harvested that could lead to direct bank withdrawals, access to safety deposit boxes, and other financial damage.

In every computer, information is stored on the hard drive and this is the only component needed for a hacker to inflict a huge amount of damage. To steal your information or perform successful identity theft, hackers don’t need specialised knowledge or skills; all they require is access to your hard drive, recovery software, brute-force password crackers, and bootable live disks.

The soul of the computer is the hard drive. Letting this fall into the wrong hands in one way or another could mean watching all you’ve worked for and all of your private information escape from your hold. This is why one effective means to getting your identity stolen is disposing of your computer – or hard drive – without properly wiping all the data it contains, or without properly destroying the hardware completely.

The risk of letting your hard drive go without proper wiping

In a world of constant evolution and new technological specs streaming into the market on a continuous basis, we have a collective appetite to just abandon our old stuff and move on with current trends. While you’ll be upgrading to a better computer with higher specs and performance, it’s easy to forget what you’re leaving behind.

You can choose to sell or discard your PC but do not do this before you’ve properly cleaned out all the sensitive data it contains. Numerous studies have shown the risks involved with reselling hard drives or disposing of them without taking the necessary cleaning steps.

A university of Leicester identity theft study found that second-hand computers pose a tremendous risk of identity theft and fraud. More than one in twenty computers in the world today are second-hand computers, and a lot of these are not cleaned out adequately, the study found.

Forensic data analyses were carried out on six second-hand computers acquired, through a number of channels, by the study team using a software programme that is widely available. It turned out that half of these computers were not wiped securely and two of them contained highly-sensitive data that could have been a goldmine in the hands of an identity thief. Information found in these hard drives included:

  • Details of a person’s place of study and CV qualifications
  • Bank account details
  • Change of email correspondence with a bank
  • Membership and login details of a DVD website
  • Username and password details for an account with an ISP
  • Other emails from certain online sites detailing account information like username and password as well as personal address and security questions.

Recovering encrypted files from an old hard drive

Hackers and criminals have found numerous ways to recover files on hard drives even when they’re encrypted. All they need is to get their hands on the hard drive, then they can burrow their way in. There are widely available software applications that can crack a locked hard drive wide open and decrypt any security in place.

What’s more, simply performing a regular wipe or format does not stop them from recovering the data you believe has been deleted. This is why it’s important to get your stuff deleted the right way.

Get rid of your old devices the proper way

Whether you’re selling off your computer or laptop because you’re bored of it, upgrading to a new device, or simply because it’s too old, you shouldn’t give it away on the assumption that its state of disrepair has taken care of all the information previously stored on it. You should go the extra mile to ensure things are completely and securely wiped off. While the proposed fail-safe method to secure your data from identity thieves is to smash your laptops and computers and destroy them entirely, you might want to sell and make some money from your device.

However, you should note that:

  • Using the delete function isn’t enough to wipe your data for good
  • Reformatting your hard drive will not erase/wipe your data

If you choose to sell your devices, ensure the hard drives in your computers and laptops are destroyed. If you don’t know how to go about this, you can get help from a GDPR compliant data company that utilises best practice methods to ensure your hard drive is properly wiped (or destroyed). This is especially so if your data puts you at the risk of breaching EU GDPR laws. Companies need to stay ahead of potential business risks, and the strictness of GDPR makes it essential that business processes are future-proofed against future fines and reputation damage.

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