Even erased, USB drives may still contain confidential data

Credit: Photo Mix , Pixabay

Selling a USB stick or external drive is a very bad idea, according to a study by the Scottish University of Abertay. Researchers have indeed shown that these devices could still contain very sensitive data.

It can be dangerous to sell or give away a USB drive: this is the main lesson of this university study which studied the contents of 100 second-hand storage devices bought online. 98% of them were empty… Apparently, because only 32 keys had been correctly erased!

Sensitive and hidden data

With the help of commercially available software, the researchers were able to extract partial files from 26 devices and full files from 42 of them. Among these data, the team at the University of Abertay obtained extremely confidential information, such as passwords, tax returns, bank details. It is even possible to collect Exif data from photos. Malicious hackers could easily determine the location of a person… “ An unscrupulous buyer could exploit these recovered files to access the seller’s online accounts”, Explains Karen Renaud, of the cybersecurity division of the university, which points to a particular danger: if a password is trapped in this data, it can be used to unlock several accounts. A reminder that it is imperative to use secure and different passwords for each of your accounts. Erasing files stored on external media is not as easy as taking the files and throwing them in the trash. There is still a lot of hidden data and it often contains sensitive information. This is why you have to go through specialized software (diskpart on Windows, Disk Utility on macOS) and not hesitate to perform the erasure several times. Or simply avoid giving or selling these devices…

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