Residual Data on Used Equipment

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Used hard drives are frequently a good source of images for testing forensic tools. That's because many individuals, companies and organizations neglect to properly sanitize their hard drives before they are sold on the secondary market.

You can find used hard drives on eBay, at swap meets, yard sales, and even on the street.


Newsworthy Used Hard Drive Stories

There have been several incidents in which individual have purchased a large number of hard drives and written about what they have found. This web page is an attempt to catalog all of those stories in chronological order.

  • 2003-01: Simson Garfinkel and Abhi Shelat at MIT publish a study in IEEE Security and Privacy Magazine which documents large amount of personal and business-sensitive information found on 150 drives purchased on the secondary market.
  • 2006-06: A man buys a family's hard drive at a fleamarket in Chicago after the family's hard drive is upgraded by Best Buy. Apparently somebody at Best Buy violated company policy and instead of destroying the hard drive, they sold it. Target 5 Investigation
  • 2006-08-10: The University of Glamorgan in Wales purchased 317 used hard drives from the UK, Australia, Germany, and the US. 25% of the 200 drives purchased from the UK market had been completely wiped. 40% of the purchased drives didn't work. 40% came from businesses, of which 23% contained enough information to identify the company. 5% had business sensitive information. 25% came from individuals, of which many had pornography, and 2 had to be referred to the police for suspected child pornography.
  • 2006-08-14: BBC News reports on bank account information recovered from used PC hard drives and being sold in Nigeria for £20 each. The PCs had apparently come from recycling points run by UK town councils that are then "recycled" by being sent to Africa.
  • 2006-08-15: Simson Garfinkel presents results of a study of 1000 hard drives (750 working) at the 2006 Workshop on Digital Forensics. Results of the study show that information can be correlated across hard drives using Garfinkel's Cross Drive Analysis approach.
  • 2007-02-06: Fulcrum Inquiry, a Los Angeles litigation support firm, purchased 70 used hard drives from 14 firms and discovered confidential information on 2/3rds of the drives.
  • 2007-08-30: Bill Ries-Kinght, an IT consultant, purchases a 120GB Seagate hard drive on eBay for $69. Although the drive was advertised as being new, it apparently was previously used by the campaign of Mike Beebe, who won the Arkansas state governorship in November 2006. "Among the files were documents listing the private cell phone numbers of political allies, including US Senators Blanch Lincoln and Mark Pryor and US Representatives Marion Berry, Mike Ross and Vic Snyder. It also included talking points to guide the candidate as he called influential people whose support he sought," states an article published in The Register.
  • 2008-01-28: Gregory Evans, a security consultant in Marina Del Ray, Calif., bought a $500 computer at a swap meet from a former mortgage company. It contained credit reports on 300 people in a deleted file, according to an article published in The New York Daily NEws. The security consultant was also able to recover the usernames and passwords of the mortgage company's former employees.

See Also

Residual Data