Ruth Mitchell

Secondhand Computers Risk Security Threat

Secondhand computers - which account for one in 12 computers in use worldwide - can potentially put users at risk of fraud and identity theft, a new study warns.

The identity theft study, conducted by leading University of Leicester criminologist Professor Martin Gill, found that second hand computers can be a potential treasure trove of personal information and urges personal and business computer users to ensure that all data is removed from their computers prior to disposing of them.

During the study, six computers were purchased through a mixture of second hand channels, and a forensic data analysis was conducted on each one. Half of the computers had in fact not been securely wiped. In one case there had been no attempt to wipe the contents whatsoever. Worryingly, data retrieved from two of the computers contained information that could be used by an identity thief. Professor Gill commented: “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.” Justin Basini of Capital One, sponsoring the study, said: “To date most of the advice surrounding protecting oneself against fraud and identity theft has centred around looking after personal, paper-based documentation. But that won’t account for the digital fingerprints that we leave behind on our PCs. We hope that our study will alert people to the dangers and encourage them to thoroughly cleanse computers before letting them out of their possession.”

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