Proper disposal of critical and personal data is of utmost importance. Electronic devices contain an enormous range of details, from bank accounts through to telephone numbers and addresses or confidential files, reports, and data. Even the GPS coordinates used by mapping apps on smartphones can be used to deduce locations and to commit crimes. Photographs are similarly valuable to a criminal: although many people think they are not relevant in a crime, they can show many pieces of information which could be used to commit fraud.
In some instances, data from devices is used by being put into a database, through which committed hackers will be able to use software to generate probable passwords – allowing them to hack into much more sensitive areas. The majority of computer devices today have some inbuilt memory, from Dictaphones and mobiles through to photocopiers and computers and laptops themselves. If this information is not correctly removed when the device is at the end of its working life, it could easily fall into the wrong hands.
Identity theft is a rapidly growing area of crime and fraudulent activity which affects more than one hundred thousand people in the United Kingdom on an annual basis. Research in some counties of Great Britain found that up to ninety percent of computing equipment was thrown away while still containing pieces of sensitive information. The average criminal can retrieve data from these devices in under five minutes, compared to the estimation provided by the Home Office that it takes a victim three hundred hours to correct the damage done by fraudulent activities. Identity fraud reportedly costs UK businesses more than $1.5 billion per year.
At the end of a device’s useful lifetime, it is essential that all information is removed. Some people choose to try and reformat their hard drives themselves, while others use the services of a professional data destruction company who can guarantee the destruction of relevant information.