A study conducted by Professor Martin Gill of the University of Leicester came to the conclusion that second hand computers pose a great risk of fraud and identity theft. They purchased six computers over the course of the study from various second hand channels. Six computers may not seem to much, or be enough to justify the results but it can be seen as an indicator. Half of them had not been securely wiped while one had not been wiped at all. Two of the three contained enough information for identity theft.
Professor Gill, commented: "The fact that we found so much personal information through a focused study indicates that the potential for fraud and identity theft from the second hand PC market is huge. More and more of us use PCs to conduct our personal business. We must all be careful not to overlook the virtual information trail that we leave behind us."
He continued: "Simply re-formatting a hard drive is not enough to make data irretrievable. Anyone disposing of a personal computer must ensure that all data is securely wiped using specialist software to wipe over every sector of the hard drive."
I think its astonishing that two of thesix computers have been securely wiped. I would have estimated that most people do a simple format and think everything is securely deleted and no one is able to access their data anymore. If you want to securely wipe your data take a look at my article on the topic. ( Securely Delete Files)
Update: Situation has changed considerably with solid state drives and flash storage becoming more popular. Standard disk wiping tools do not work effectively enough on those drives, and users need to use special security software, often provided by the manufacturer, to securely erase the contents on the storage devices. Another solution would be to sell or give away the computer without storage devices attached to it.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.