Survey: 40% of hard drives bought on eBay hold personal data

Buyers found data on everything from corporate spreadsheets to e-mails and photos

A New York computer forensics firm found that 40 percent of the hard disk drives it recently purchased in bulk orders from eBay contained personal, private and sensitive information -- everything from corporate financial data to the Web-surfing history and downloads of a man with a foot fetish.

Kessler International conducted the survey over a six-month period, buying up disk drives from the United States and Canada ranging in size from 40GB to 300GB. The firm, which completed its survey about two weeks ago, bought a total of 100 relatively modern drives, the vast majority of them serial ATA.

"With size of the sample, I guess we were surprised with the percentage of disks that we found data on," said Michael Kessler, CEO of Kessler International. "We expected most of the drives to be wiped -- to find one or two disks with data. But 40 drives out of 100 is a lot."

While Kessler's engineers had to use special forensics software to retrieve data from some of the hard drives, others contained sensitive data in the clear, having never been overwritten or erased. The data included personal documents, financial information, e-mails, DNS server information and photographs.

"The average person who knows anything about computers could plug in these disks and just go surfing," Kessler said. "I know they found a guy's foot fetish on one disk. He'd been downloading loads and loads of stuff on feet. With what we got on that disk -- his name, address and all of his contacts -- it would have been extremely embarrassing if we were somebody who wanted to blackmail him."

Kessler said his company specifically avoided buying drives whose sellers indicated they'd been erased.

Kessler International broke down the kind of data it retrieved this way: Personal and confidential documents, including financial information, (36 percent); e-mails, (21 percent); photos, (13 percent); corporate documents, (11 percent); Web browsing histories, (11 percent); DNS server information, (4 percent); Miscellaneous data, (4 percent).

"We were more concerned with searching for people's identification, which is what we found, but we were surprised by all the corporate spreadsheets and business finance records we found," Kessler said.

The forensics firm even found one company's "secret" French fries recipe, Kessler said.

In recent years, hard drives have shown up on eBay that contain all kinds of sensitive data. In April 2006, Idaho Power Co. learned that drives it thought had been recycled had actually been sold on eBay with data still intact. The utility had used the drives in servers; when bought on eBay, they still contained proprietary corporate information such as memos, customer correspondence and confidential employee information.

And in 2007, a supposedly new hard drive purchased on eBay was found to contain information from the Arkansas Democratic Party.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags hard drives

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Lucas Mearian

Lucas Mearian

Computerworld
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?