Data on old machines poses ID theft risk

16 Nov 2007

Consumers risk being victims of identity theft due to the nature of personal information being left on old computers, the Minister for State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Tony Kileen TD warned.

“Information is power, be it in the right or wrong hands,” Kileen said. “We need to ensure that our privacy is maintained and that electronic information is not passed on to others when old computers are recycled.”

Killeen added that a recent study by Irish security firm Rits Information Security found that many Irish businesses and consumers continued to dispose of computers without deleting personal information.

In its analysis of old computer hard drives, Rits found 300 credit card numbers from an organisation involved in fundraising for a large charity event, insurance brokers client files, mobile phone company client information and customer data from a major Irish bank.

Not one of the drives was securely erased. In those where erasure was attempted it was possible to recover the data.

“Whilst households and companies appear to have gone some way to embrace the need to ethically recycle equipment reducing the extent of unlawful dumping and resultant environmental damage, we are forgetting about the security risk,” explained Killeen.

Kileen said there was an urgent need to educate computer users of the risks associated with information stored on a computer’s hard drive.

Identity theft can be defined as someone taking your personal information, unbeknownst to the owner, and using it for the purposes of carrying out fraud.

It is a crime that has become particularly prevalent online where personal information can be moved across the globe in a fraction of a second.

“There is also a need to ensure that the information on the system is completely removed before passing on the control of the computer to others,” Kileen warned. “It is not enough to simply press the delete button and to assume that the information has been irretrievably removed.”

By John Kennedy