Nearly half of second hand storage devices contain sensitive information about their previous owners, according to a new study.
Research published yesterday by Kroll Ontrack has found that people are failing to erase personal data on storage devices before selling them to others.
As a result, they risk putting their own and other people's identity and privacy at risk, causing a massive security challenge for resellers such as eBay and Amazon.
These findings were revealed in a global security study exploring the privacy of personal information stored on common storage devices.
The data recovery firm examined a range of previously used drives to see if they contained information from the previous owner, and the results were staggering.
Around 50 per cent of these drives contained traces of data from former owners, allowing new users to access information about their identities.
Although users often try to erase data, the security company found that this information can often be retrieved. And, as a result, cyber criminals can sell personal information online.
Knroll Ontrack analysed devices from a range of countries, including the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, the UK and the Asia-Pacific region.
The firm bought 64 drives on popular online marketplace eBay and conducted an experiment to see if they had been wiped correctly before being sold.
There was a case of a company drive containing highly sensitive information such as usernames, home addresses, credit card details and phone numbers.
It also had a list of job titles, phone numbers, language abilities, vocation dates and a 1MB offline address book. This could have put the firm's reputation at risk.
Nearly a third of the devices (21) stored information such as personal photos, private documents, emails, videos, wedding photos and music. And user information like log-in details were discovered on eight.
Researchers also uncovered transactional data on nine drives, including company names, salary statements, credit card numbers, bank account details and tax returns. One drive even contained a record of browser history.
The study investigated both HDD and SDD drives, with the latter growing in dominance. Although SSD drives aren't immune to privacy challenges, they appeared to be better at data wipes.
When it comes to deleting data on storage drives, the researchers found that low-level formatting is the best option. This process involves pattern falling, and it's capable of resetting the device to factory settings.
"Ontrack recently carried out a global security study that indicated we are putting our personal information at risk far too easily," wrote the firm.
"The data recovery company analysed used drives to see if any traces of data remained after the previous owners sold them.
"Among the drives Kroll Ontrack examined, traces of data were found on nearly half. Many of these innocent oversights allowed the new owners critical access into the previous owners' identity."
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