An investigation by Computerworld has uncovered sensitive government and commercial documents on PCs bought from a second-hand computer dealer.
Correspondence in the name of then prime minister Jenny Shipley and WINZ chief executive designate Christine Rankin are among the documents from two PCs which appear to have originated at a government agency. Another PC, which was apparently owned by a well-known finance company, contains letters to mortgage holders behind in their repayments.
Computerworld set out to show the unreliability of standard methods of wiping data from computer hard drives before their disposal. It commissioned Auckland company Computer Forensics NZ to analyse drives of second-hand PCs bought at random.
Computer Forensics managing director Brian Eardley-Wilmot says the discovery of the documents is a wake-up call to computer administrators who thought reformatting a hard disk or dragging files to the trash was all it took to delete data. Files must be over-written to destroy them, he says.
"IT managers are generally meticulous about internal security procedures," he says. But the work his firm carried out for Computerworld demonstrates "appalling carelessness", which he believes to be common.