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I chose to be in the information destruction business because I wanted to help protect people from the horrors of identity theft. As a part of this business, I spend a fair amount of time educating people on how to protect themselves and their companies from data theft and misuse. In an effort to keep reality at the head of education, my friend John Hoyt and I decided to run a little experiment. John owns Homeland Secure IT in Greenville, SC, and has probably forgotten more about technology that I will ever know. He is also a heck of a good guy. Here is a brief story board of events. Please share this information with others…you may be saving them a ton of trouble!

Near the beginning of March I purchased a hard drive from a computer store here in my town. I asked for the cheapest one they had. It was a used 40GB drive, similar to most any hard drive in any desktop computer. I delivered it to John, who used a piece of software that costs about $100 to recover 194,000 files on the hard drive. There were many excel files, accounting software files, jpeg and mp3 files. While we didn’t open any of the recovered files, their titles indicate they kept very good records on their assets, their family, and even a parents’ medications on their computer. A narrative from John during this process can be seen here. Of course no personally identifying information is revealed in the video, and when we had completed the experiment we used software to completely overwrite all the information on the drive, and it has now been shredded by ShredDisk.

Does this experiment concern you? If you have ever donated, sold, or traded in your old computer, it should. The store did nothing illegal. The drive was formatted as they said it was, and was ready for use. There is no law preventing the sale of used computer parts. The consumer most likely did not understand how hard drive data storage works. They are not alone. Most people I talk with think deleting their files actually deletes them and they can’t be recovered. THIS IS NOT THE CASE! I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT THE CASE!

It is a fine idea to donate your computer or to save on a new computer by trading the old one in. I sympathize with you…there are few people who like to save money as much as me. But the only way to do this and be certain your data is protected is to protect it yourself. Please remove your hard drive beforehand, or have the store remove it and give it to you for destruction. You may lose a little on the trade-in value, but what you protect could save you thousands!

19 Responses to “Worst fear confirmed in real-life experiment”

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    For a really slpmie chat program you can just use IRC.You can connect to a chat room (this can be private) and then connect directly to another user (this is called DCC) to transfer files. The nice thing about doing it this way is that the connection to the chat room is persistent. You don’t have to have both computers online at the same time. You can have one computer connect to the room and then wait (many IRC users leave it on for days or weeks) until the other user shows up.

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