A recent Symantec examination of five used PCs purchased at pawn shops showed their previous owners failed to completely erase the hard drives, giving the research team access to sensitive data, including Social Security numbers, real estate transactions, bank account information and company directories.
"The key problem here is that customers don't view their computers as an extension of their wallets from the perspective of protecting their identity," said Eoghan O'Donnell, the company official responsible for transaction security in Symantec's Consumer Products and Solutions division. "Would you ever throw away your wallet without removing your money, bank and credit cards first? I don't think so."
Not surprisingly, Symantec said, more and more computer owners are choosing to dump their computers. According to the National Recycling Coalition, nearly 500 million PCs will be obsolete by next year. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 80 percent of those computers will end up in landfills, Symantec said.
O'Donnell said users should be educated on the value of what is stored on computers. They must look at hard drives as their closets – whatever remains there will not disappear until it is cleaned – this time using deletion software.
"Over time, you collect tax returns, financial records, photographs, email – not to mention your computer records - everything you do while you're online," he said.