Before You Sell that Printer, Wipe the Drive

Before You Sell that Printer, Wipe the Drive

Sonia Zjawinski
May 28, 2010

Be careful what you print at the office. A CBS News investigation found that the majority of businesses that trade in their old copiers for new ones don't think to wipe the hard drives within their old machines. Those drives hold digital copies of everything that's been printed during that machine's life; much of it personal info. When the copier is tossed or sold, it's drive of data has the potential to make it to identity thieves.

In February CBS News went out and bought four used copiers from a warehouse in New Jersey (one of 25 in the states). Each cost $300 and each was filled with personal info. "We didn't even have to wait for the first one to warm up. One of the copiers had documents still on the copier glass, from the Buffalo, N.Y., Police Sex Crimes Division," Armen Keteyian writes. Oops!

CBS News enlisted Digital Copier Security owner John Juntunen, who used a free forensic software program to scan and download thousands of docs from the copiers' hard drives. It took less than 12 hours to get ahold of digital copies of domestic violence complaints and a list of wanted sex offenders from the sex crimes unit, a list of targets in a major drug raid from the Buffalo Police Narcotics Unit, and 95 pages of pay stubs with names, addresses and social security numbers from a New York construction company.

The most disturbing discovery? The fourth printer was from New York insurance company Affinity Health Plan. The scan gave CBS News access to 300 pages of individual medical records. "They included everything from drug prescriptions, to blood test results, to a cancer diagnosis. A potentially serious breach of federal privacy law."

Um, yah!

So what can you do?

  • Don't print personal documents from work. You can't guarantee that the copier's drive will be wiped clean during your company's next tech upgrade.
  • Ask your insurance company, medical office, and any other business you give or get personal information from what they do with their copier and printer hard drives when they replace their machines. If nothing, suggest they look into Juntunen's InfoSweep app, which scrubs all the data on hard drives. Or tell them you'll take your business elsewhere if they can't guarantee your info's security.
  • For home printers, ask the manufacturer how to scrub its drive. Most consumer printers have instructions on how to clear this data.

Image: James F Clay

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