Discarding Data

On the problem of getting rid of data.

Phtocopier in use
Sometimes we recognize that we are storing valuable data. At other times we don’t.

Devices increasingly store data inside themselves, often without us realizing it.

I recently came across this CBS report from earlier in the year. Larger photocopiers typically store images on hard disks before printing. When the photocopier is discarded, nobody thinks about the contents of that hard disk.

To us, a photocopier is just a device. We put a sheet of paper on the photocopier, press the copy button and, if we remembered to remove our sheet of paper, assume the photocopier has forgotten entirely about the operation. But it hasn’t. The photocopier’s hard drive may contain thousands of documents. The CBS report found confidential health records, police records, and payroll records – the kind of information that can be very expensive if accidentally disclosed.

It’s not just high-end photocopiers and printers that store data. A discarded VoIP telephone or router can reveal confidential account information – enough to make telephone calls at our company’s expense. Smart phones contain not just a list of contacts, but account information for email accounts and social networking accounts, as well as website passwords and banking information.

What is needed is a big red self-destruct button on each device which instantly destroys any sensitive data.

If any Bond villain can get one for his headquarters, it should be possible for me to get one for my photocopier or VoIP router, shouldn’t it?

Seasonal note: there are always a number of break-ins at this time of year, particularly through chimneys. The government is keeping a close watch on a possible suspect. Be sure to secure your fireplace.
23 December 2010

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