June 13, 2024

Used Hard Disks Packed with Confidential Information

Simson Garfinkel has an eye-opening piece in CSO magazine about the contents of used hard drives. Simson bought a pile of used hard drives and systematically examined them to see what could be recovered from them.

I took the drives home and started my own forensic analysis. Several of the drives had source code from high-tech companies. One drive had a confidential memorandum describing a biotech project; another had internal spreadsheets belonging to an international shipping company.

Since then, I have repeatedly indulged my habit for procuring and then analyzing secondhand hard drives. I bought recycled drives in Bellevue, Wash., that had internal Microsoft e-mail (somebody who was working from home, apparently). Drives that I found at an MIT swap meet had financial information on them from a Boston-area investment firm.

One of the drives once lived in an ATM. It contained a year’s worth of financial transactions