It was recently brought to our attention that nearly every digital photocopier built since 2002 contains a hard drive like the ones in the computers we use every day in our work and private lives. This came about from a presentation by Sharlene Anderson at our National Conference and from a CBS News article titled “Digital Photocopiers Loaded with Secrets”. Well, we all sort of knew it, but did not give the fact much thought.
The hard drives in these copiers store an image of every document copied or scanned by the machine. Now think of what client, private and personal documents (bank information, tax returns, passport applications – not to mention other things copied after the staff drink’s night) are copied and then stored on these hard drives.
As many digital copiers are supplied to businesses under some form of rental plan, when the rental plan come to an end and the rental companies come and take these machines away – it takes away the built in hard drive and all of the information it. Whether they are owned or rented, old copies usually are traded in or sold when they are replaced. No one gives much of a thought about what may be contained on the hard drives or what happens to those hard drives after they go out the front door.
These machines are then often re-sold to, well who knows who.
The CBS reporter went to a wholesaler of second hand copiers and randomly purchased four from the hundreds in the warehouse. They turned out to be from 1. a police sex crimes division, 2. a police narcotics unit, 3. a construction company and 4. a health insurance company. With a little effort they managed to obtain a vast amount of information from all of these hard drives within 24 hours of buying them.
This wholesale business was just one of many that sells second hand copiers by the container load to overseas buyers.
Can anyone get this information off a hard drive? Yes. The CBS reporter used free software available on the internet to access these hard drives. Considering each hard drive may contain hundreds of thousands of pages of information, these are a rich source of information for criminals. The information obtain by the CBS reporter contained hundreds of pages of very personal financial and medical information on hundreds of people. A gold mine for identity theft fraudsters.
You don’t hand over important financial information to a strangers simply because they ask for it. But you may be handing over that information to strangers who don’t even ask for it.
Remember the saying “it is better to be safe than sorry”. So next time you replace your copier – find out what is happening to its hard drive.