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Seller Beware! Hard Drive Info May Not be Gone!  

  February 1, 2003

  Time to throw out that old hard drive? With the advancement of technology, hard drives are becoming increasingly cheaper. To make way for that newer, faster and most important of all, larger hard drive, many people are either just throwing out their old hard drives or they try to sell it. From a recent survey, by market research firm Dataquest, more than 150 million disk drives were pulled from their primary service in 2002, in increase from 130 milling in 2001. The question now is, what is on your hard drive when you throw or sell it away?

  Do you think your deleted data is secure? Think again. Hard drives are designed to store binary bytes. When you press the delete key, this does not change the binary bytes that are stored on your hard drive, it removes the link to where the data is stored but the data is still recoverable. Many computer users are unaware of this and that is the problem. Think formatting the hard drive will guarantee that your confidential information is truly deleted? Nope, formatting the hard drives also does not remove the binary bytes. Formatting just sets up the hard drive so that all the links are removed and new information can be put anywhere, but until the new information is entered, the old information is still lurking in the background.

  Confusing? Imagine that the hard drive is like a storage hotel. Check things in that you donít want to throw away (just yet) to store, and when you feel like you want to get rid of the things, the hotel will do it for you. The front desk is the operating system; it assigns the user to an unoccupied room and keeps track of the rooms currently in use. So when a user asks for a room, the front desk would let the user know how many free rooms they have and assign the user a room. When the user wants to get rid of their stuff, the front desk records that the room is free but does not go and clean out that room yet. When the room is needed again, that is when the rooms gets cleaned out, but until then the items remain.

  Now when this storage hotel switches owners, the new owners have the option to go and look through the previously occupied rooms and dig through information that has been left. Some rooms may have valuable things, other rooms may not, but do you want to take the risk that in one of those rooms contains personal and confidential information?

  Now, hopefully you have a better understanding of how a hard drive works. This analogy isnít perfect, but there is no real life situation that can compare with how much dangerous information a used hard drives can contain. Just the fact that most people think that just by deleting a file, that file is gone forever is a misconception that canít afford to continue for much longer. Sensitive information is sensitive, whether it is in binary bytes or English words; if it is recoverable, it is still sensitive information.

  Getting rid of old hard drives are becoming more and more of a big security issue for responsible businesses. These days, information is power and the information that businesses unwittingly give away on old hard drives can be devastating. For an insurance company with a database containing policy holderís credit card number, bank information for automated withdraw and possibly even SIN (if they did a credit check based on credit card number), not to mention all the data for their own employees, it can be disastrous if all this confidential information were made public. Can you imagine how many fake passport, or identity thefts can happen if information like this fell into the wrong hands with the right skills? This example has only looked at an insurance company, however all companies are at risk, whether you are a small and growing company or a large corporation dealing with many different clients (can large banking services really afford the risk of their client information getting into the wrong hands?). All your information, for employees and clients, are ultimately put on hard drives where even deleting and formatting does not make it unrecoverable.

  The bottom line is that no business, whether big or small, can afford to leave information on hard drives. Tools and services are available to decrease your information exposure. An example would be http://www.viiweb.com/data_removal.php, they offer a service for all types of business to properly dispose of any and all information that may be left on old hard drives.


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