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Thursday, May 07, 2009

On IT literacy

Now I am not the most IT literate of people but even I know that hard drives retain information you think you have deleted and that the only safe way to dispose of it is to smash the thing with a hammer.

I was less than assured this morning therefore to read that researchers have found sensitive information for shooting down intercontinental missiles as well as bank details and NHS records on old computers. You would think that if people are able to work out how to intercept and destroy a scud missile then they would also be aware enough not to auction their computer on ebay whilst it still contained sensitive information.

Actually, the list of data found by the researchers is quite disturbing and underlines the need for proper education and protocols. The BBC tell us that the same computer hard disk as contained the missile data also revealed security policies and blueprints of facilities at the US defence group Lockheed Martin, and personal information on employees.

A disk from France included security logs from an embassy in Paris, while two disks from the UK appear to have originated from a Scottish NHS hospital trust. The disks had information from the Monklands and Hairmyres hospitals, part of Lanarkshire NHS Trust, and revealed patient medical records, images of x-rays, medical staff shifts and sensitive and confidential staff letters.

Another disk, from a US-based consultant, formerly with a US-based weapons manufacturer, revealed account numbers and details of proposals for the $50bn currency exchange as well as details of business dealings between organisations in the US, Venezuela, Tunisia and Nigeria. Personal correspondence was also found from a member of a major European bank.

Now doesn't that make you feel better about a National ID Database?


"the only safe way to dispose of it is to smash the thing with a hammer."

That won't work either. You have to throw it into the flames of Mount Doom.
Indeed. A hammer alone is not enough. A secure wipe followed by a good smashing is the best way, but there's no such thing as a guarantee. For people who hope to resell their computer, do the sensible thing and use a secure-wipe tool. Delete doesn't cut the mustard.

By the way, am I the only person to find your flapping Libby ever-so-slightly rude?
running a magnet across the hard drive wipes the hard drive clean and makes any information on there unrecoverable!

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