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September 24, 2007

Privacy and Security Watch: Are you giving away your personal or corporate data to thieves?

Richard Kuper
The Kuper Report

I came across a couple of articles that continue to bring home the fact that many companies and individuals still do not have a handle on ensuring the privacy and security of data:

What's on your hard drive?

When businesses or individuals discard old computers, apparently many are not ensuring that personal or business data has been securely removed first. According to this article, from a sample of 350 hard drives acquired in online auctions, details about salary, company financial data, medical data, credit card numbers, visa applications, details of online purchases, and even online pornography were found.

There are many tools available today for corporate and individual use that can shred the data on your hard drives and other storage devices. They are not very expensive, especially for individual use. Simply reformatting the hard drive, for example, will not wipe the data from it.

Do you or your employees connect to a file-sharing network?

If you connect your computer to a file-sharing network, such as BearShare or LimeWire or the like, you are opening up your computer to anyone who cares to search it and copy stuff from it. According to this article, "Three spreadsheets containing more than 5,000 Social Security numbers and other personal details about customers of ABN Amro Mortgage Group were inadvertently leaked over an online file-sharing network by a former employee." In this case, the computer had the BearShare software installed.

A common search, by those seeking something other than a song, is to search on terms like "password" to find data on connected computers that will net usable information for identity theft and other crimes. In addition, it would seem that most users of file-sharing networks do not take the appropriate steps to limit what can be searched on their computer. Any time you allow your computer to be accessed by others whom you do not know and therefore have no known level of trust, you are looking for trouble.

Regarding the leaked spreadsheet with over 5,000 Social Security numbers and other personal customer details, according to a spokesperson for ABN parent company Citigroup Inc.: "Citi's information-security standards require that confidential information be stored on Citi-managed devices." In the case of the spreadsheet, it would seem the employee had it on his home pc.

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