Hard Drives in Photocopiers
Nearly every digital photocopier sold since 2002 stores images of whatever it copies on an internal hard drive. This enables conveniences like printing copies of frequently needed documents without re-scanning them. But stored documents can also be a security or identity theft time-bomb. Consider what may be on that copier's hard drive when you or your employer trades it in or otherwise disposes of it...
Is the Office Copier Telling Your Secrets?
"Photocopier dealers report an appalling array of sensitive data left on copier hard drives when they're traded in or delivered for repairs. Birth certificates; Social Security Numbers; bank account statements with the account numbers plainly displayed; income tax forms; customer lists; and more. That kind of information would be very valuable to competitors or identity thieves.
In a recent security experiment, CBS News accompanied John Juntunen to a New Jersey warehouse in which used photocopiers were stored. Juntunen owns Digital Copier Security, a firm which tries to alert copier owners to security vulnerabilities and offer solutions. I say "tries" because, as Juntunen told CBS, "Nobody wants to step up and say, 'we see the problem, and we need to solve it."
Juntunen picked four used copiers based on the number of copies they had printed, a number conveniently displayed on the console of each machine. He paid a total of about $1,200 for them. Then he took them back to his shop to see what information he could retrieve from their hard drives. The results were startling.
One machine didn't even have to be plugged in to cough up secrets. Paper documents were left on the scanner bed. That copier came from the Buffalo, NY, Police Sex Crimes Division. As Detective Steve McGarrett of Hawaii Five-O used to say, "That's nice police work there, Dann-o!"
It took Jununten about 12 hours to download tens of thousands of documents from the four machines, using forensic software freely available on the Web. Here are examples of what he found:
- The Sex Crimes Division copier coughed up detailed reports of domestic violence incidents.
- A second copier from the Buffalo Narcotics Division named targets of drug raids and gave their addresses.
- A copier from a construction company spewed employees' pay records including names, addresses, and Social Security Numbers; plus, copies of company checks that could be digitally doctored into blank ones before printing.
- The fourth machine, from Affinity Health Plan, contained over 300 patients' medical records and personal identification information. Letting such info go out the door is a federal patient privacy law violation.
In 2008, digital copier manufacturer Sharp Imaging commissioned a survey on copier security that found 60 percent of Americans "don't know" that copiers store images on a hard drive. Even after warning its customers, Sharp found that they just don't care. You should care, obviously, if you ever copy anything that's personal or not work-related on the office copier. Never mind the possibility that the boss might be able to see what's on there. You should be worried about what happens to those digital records after the copier leaves the office.
So obviously steps should be taken to erase your copier's hard drive before disposing of it. Discuss with your copier service provider how to ensure that the hard drive is securely wiped at the end of your lease, or if the machine is sold or junked. Better still, arrange to have the hard drive removed and delivered to you. Then you can destroy it, or otherwise ensure that your data won't fall into the wrong hands. See my related article How to Destroy a Hard Drive for tips on making sure the data on a hard drive cannot be retrieved.
Oh, and don't forget to remove the last documents from the scanner bed and feeder tray. Does your photocopier have a hard drive inside? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 21 Sep 2010
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Hard Drives in Photocopiers (Posted: 21 Sep 2010)
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