students uncovered a treasure of personal data
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  1. #1
    AO übergeek phishphreek's Avatar
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    students uncovered a treasure of personal data

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    Two Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate students have uncovered a treasure trove of personal and corporate information on used disk drives.
    Simson Garfinkel and Abbi Shelat, students at MIT’s Laboratory of Computer Science, said Wednesday that they bought 158 disk drives for less than $1,000 on the Web and at swap meets.

    Scavenging through the drives, they found more than 5,000 credit card numbers, medical reports, detailed personal and corporate financial information, and several gigabytes worth of personal e-mail and pornography.

    Their findings, titled "Remembrance of Data Passed: A Study of Disk Sanitation," are being published in the January/February 2003 issue of IEEE Security and Privacy, a journal published by the IEEE Computer Society.

    The research indicates that the market for used hard drives is flooded with devices brimming with confidential information that could be exploited. Such data, for example, could be used to assume someone else’s identity.

    "The industry has known this is a problem, but our contribution is to show the pervasiveness of the problem," Garfinkel said. "You pick up 10 drives on the used market and the chances are that three or four of them are going to have confidential information. That is astounding."

    Each year, as the storage capacity multiplies onto ever smaller spaces, old drives are replaced. More than 150 million disk drives were pulled from their primary service in 2002, up from 130 million in 2001, according to market research firm Dataquest.

    Garfinkel and Shelat found 129 of the 158 drives they acquired were still functional. Of these, the researchers found 28 drives in which little or no attempt was made to erase the information. On one drive, the pair found a year’s worth of financial transactions. Shelat said the drive apparently came from an automatic teller machine in Illinois.

    "Right now there is no way to erase the information on the drive without plugging it in and spending dozens and dozens of minutes erasing it--and that is an expensive process," Garfinkel said. "In many cases it is going to cost more to (cleanse) the drive than the drive is even worth."

    The pair found that most attempts to erase information from the drives before selling them were ineffectual. On many disks, the files that once resided in the "My Document" folder had been deleted but could easily be recovered using the "undelete" utility. Many computer users are unaware that deleting a file does not actually overwrite the blocks on the disk that hold that information.

    Even a reformatted drive is vulnerable.

    Although 60 percent of the drives had been formatted before being sold, the researchers noted that formatting does not fully sanitize a disk because Microsoft’s Window’s "format" command doesn’t overwrite every block of data.

    "The format command just reads every block to make sure that they still work," explained Garfinkel. "To properly sanitize the hard drive, you need to overwrite every block."

    It was on one of these formatted drives that the pair found 5,000 credit card numbers.

    The students found that only 12 drives were properly sanitized.

    "Lots of people know it is important to clean drives before you repurpose them, but few people do it because it's hard to do," Garfinkel said.
    Thats exactly why I

    1. either don't give out old hard drives (pull them out of old boxes when I give em out) and
    2. smash em with a hammer after doing a low level format.
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  2. #2
    Leftie Linux Lover the_JinX's Avatar
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    H'm I always find good uses for my old disks myself (routers firewalls and servers)..

    And all the old windows disks I use have been repartitioned and formated ext3..

    I don't think anyone can recover information from a FAT32 partition after it has been partitioned and formated ext3, but if anyone can proove me wrong, please do so !!
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    if u format your drive and the is XX amount of space left then where does the "data" ie personal info reside?

    this is quite confusing for me

  4. #4
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    It resides on the 'space', the data is still on the HD until you over-write it!

    Heres some info that should explain it better!

    http://www.webopedia.com/DidYouKnow/...eted_Files.asp

    Cheers

    r3b00+

  5. #5
    Leftie Linux Lover the_JinX's Avatar
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    drew: I think you misunderstand the whole internal workings and even concept of a (harddisk) filesystem..

    perhaps this information about partitions and filesystems migh help you understand..
    and for more information about harddisks, check: here, here, here or here

    btw: who remembers UNFORMAT
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    alrighty, i was reading and thinking, if these files aren't gone then they are gonna fill up the hdd but then i read about overwritting and it's making more sense now. thanx for the links, i've got a fair bit of reading ahead of me =)

    i think i understand the concept now. just to make sure, if i do format that's does erase all the data doesn't it?

    if not then a format does NOT overwrite the data. i think that a format should erase the data, right?

    edit:
    are their different levels of formats that preform different operations such as low or high level formats? if so which WILL permanently remove ALL data on a hdd?

  7. #7
    Leftie Linux Lover the_JinX's Avatar
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    think of it as paper and a pencil..

    you write somethin on it with the pencil.
    then you erase (format) the paper..

    if you'd look closely you could still see the indentation of what you have written.

    f you'd write something else, you wouldn't see the indentations anymore..

    now if you were to take the paper, shred it and add water and all and make a new piece of paper of it (lot of work), you wouldn't see the indentations.. but it would take a lot of time and be more expencive then buying new paper and destorying the old

    The shredding and remaking of the papaer is (kind of) what a low level format does..
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    ok like the analogy ... i'm gonna bug you one last time and ask, how difficuly is a low-level format and plz tell me i can mess around with it for free =P

  9. #9
    Senior Member Spyrus's Avatar
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    Just and FYI for all of you we ran some tests at work as part of a Disaster recovery session and found that we could run a low level format rewrite over the data and were still able to recover most of the original data off the disk. There are several applications out there that let you recover in different ways. The "safe" way of deleting a disk or the NSA standard is to do low level format 4-7 times. and there are programs that will write 1's and 0's over the drive as you erase that many times in a row.
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  10. #10
    Leftie Linux Lover the_JinX's Avatar
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    Spyrus.. nice info..

    You could on a * nix system overwrite the disk with random info with dd (disk duplicate) and select as input file /dev/urandom (or /dev/random is urandom is not available)..

    the only problem is that it might realy damage your disk..

    I'm going to try it with an old disk soon.. If it works I'll write a tut on it
    And if it doesn't well, too bad..
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