Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

Second-Hand Drives Yield First-Class Data

Study shows companies, users still vulnerable to data theft via unerased, recycled hard drives

If you think stolen laptops are a threat to your organization, you'd better double-check the PCs and hard drives you've sold, trashed, or given away.

In a newly-published study of more than 300 hard drives obtained in auctions and computer fairs all over the world, university researchers found "an alarming level of sensitive information" remains on second-hand long after they are disposed of.

The study, released yesterday, was conducted by the University of Glamorgan in the U.K., Edith Cowan University in Australia, and BT's Security Technology Research Group.

The researchers purchased the hard drives in various used computer venues in Australia, Germany, North America, and the U.K. They then studied the drives to see what data they could still access on second-hand disks.

What they found was a surprising array of data that should have been erased long before the drives were sold or tossed. Some of the data included payroll information, employee names and photos, IP addresses, network information, mobile phone numbers, copies of invoices, and financial information such as bank and credit card accounts.

The researchers did not publish figures to show how many of the 300 drives held sensitive data, and officials could not be reached for comment today. The team did say that the results "were an improvement" on the numbers in 2005, which was the first year the universities conducted the study. Andrew Blyth, who led the research team at the University of Glamorgan, said, "It is obvious [from the data] that there are millions of hard drives on public sale that still contain highly confidential material."

Companies have been struggling for some time with the problem of erasing sensitive data from hard drives, which is a time-consuming process that is difficult to do thoroughly. Last month, some IT pros took heart when a prototype "trash can" was developed, promising a quick and comprehensive means of erasing the drives. (See A Garbage Can for Hard Drives.)

Apparently, however, many companies still are not completing the task of wiping out sensitive data from their hard drives. Andy Jones, head of security technology research at BT, chastised IT departments and users in a written statement upon the publication of the study results.

"Given the level of exposure that the subject has received in recent times, the availability of suitable tools to ensure the safe disposal of information, increasing legislative pressure, and the increasing literacy of computer users, it is difficult to understand or explain why there is such poor implementation of this knowledge and tools in ensuring that disks are effectively cleaned before they are disposed of," Jones said.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

  • BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA)

    Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

    Comment  | 
    Print  | 
    More Insights
  • Comments
    Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
    News
    FluBot Malware's Rapid Spread May Soon Hit US Phones
    Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  4/28/2021
    Slideshows
    7 Modern-Day Cybersecurity Realities
    Steve Zurier, Contributing Writer,  4/30/2021
    Commentary
    How to Secure Employees' Home Wi-Fi Networks
    Bert Kashyap, CEO and Co-Founder at SecureW2,  4/28/2021
    Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
    White Papers
    Video
    Cartoon Contest
    Current Issue
    2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
    We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
    Flash Poll
    How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
    How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
    Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
    Twitter Feed
    Dark Reading - Bug Report
    Bug Report
    Enterprise Vulnerabilities
    From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
    CVE-2021-31755
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-07
    An issue was discovered on Tenda AC11 devices with firmware through 02.03.01.104_CN. A stack buffer overflow vulnerability in /goform/setmac allows attackers to execute arbitrary code on the system via a crafted post request.
    CVE-2021-31756
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-07
    An issue was discovered on Tenda AC11 devices with firmware through 02.03.01.104_CN. A stack buffer overflow vulnerability in /gofrom/setwanType allows attackers to execute arbitrary code on the system via a crafted post request. This occurs when input vector controlled by malicious attack get copie...
    CVE-2021-31757
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-07
    An issue was discovered on Tenda AC11 devices with firmware through 02.03.01.104_CN. A stack buffer overflow vulnerability in /goform/setVLAN allows attackers to execute arbitrary code on the system via a crafted post request.
    CVE-2021-31758
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-07
    An issue was discovered on Tenda AC11 devices with firmware through 02.03.01.104_CN. A stack buffer overflow vulnerability in /goform/setportList allows attackers to execute arbitrary code on the system via a crafted post request.
    CVE-2021-31458
    PUBLISHED: 2021-05-07
    This vulnerability allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code on affected installations of Foxit Reader 10.1.1.37576. User interaction is required to exploit this vulnerability in that the target must visit a malicious page or open a malicious file. The specific flaw exists within the handlin...