Tossing that old copy machine? Better erase the hard drive

10/11/2010 6:02 PM |

Have you ever used a copy machine at work to copy personal information?

Income tax returns? Social Security number? Credit card statement?

Well, guess what?

Turns out, most digital copy machines sold since 2002 have a hard drive built into them, just like the one on a computer, which stores all information ever copied on that machine.

Many digital printers also have hard drives. The reason copiers have hard drives is so they can store information and print pages quicker. Without the hard drive, copiers would be much slower. What happens with that information after the copier is discarded is something local companies are only now becoming concerned about.

J.C. Anson, a production, print and color specialist for Carr Business Systems in Melville addressed this topic at last week ‘s meeting of the Long Island Executive Association at East Wind in Wading River, where many of the business owners in attendance, had no idea that copiers had hard drives.

“In the past, document security was always about people worrying about paper documents walking out the front door,” he said. “Now, we’re talking about electronic documents, and how to prevent identity theft.”

Mr. Anson said he was a victim of identity theft himself about 10 years ago, to the tune of about $28,000.

“Back then, it was still a new thing and people didn’t know much about it,” he said. “But I’ll tell you, it played havoc with me for a long time.”

In many identity theft cases, the hard drive on a copier is the culprit, as they often can up to 120,000 documents.

Mr. Anson showed the group a video of a CBS Evening News report from April 15 of this year, in which reporter Armen Keteyian and software developer John Juntunen purchased four used copiers at a cost of about $300 apiece from a warehouse in New Jersey.

In less than 12 hours, Mr. Juntunen was printing the documents stored on the copiers. One copier included records from the Buffalo Police Department, including a list of targets in a major drug raid, domestic violence complaints and a list of wanted sex offenders.

Another computer filed from Affinity Health Plan in New York included individual medical records, which the report said is a breach of federal privacy laws. Another machine had design plans for a building going up near the World Trade Center, and included pay stubs with copied checks, social security numbers and names.

The report said the warehouse from which they purchased the copiers had just sent two shipping containers full of other used copiers to Argentina and Singapore on the day they were there.

“The day after this report ran, our phones rang off the hook,” Mr. Anson said.

His company actually was hired by Affinity to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, he said.

He said among the things companies can do is scrub the hard drive periodically to erase images it has stored, although most companies don’t want to do this until after the lease or life of the copier is over.

People also could just remove the hard drive, but if a copier is leased, it has to be in operating condition when it is returned, and it wouldn’t operate without the hard drive.

Another option is to remove the hard drive, put in a blank one and give the person back the used hard drive to do what they please with it, although this may cost about $500.

A broken or damaged hard drive can still contain retrievable information, so the best method of destroying one is incineration, Mr. Anson said.

How do you know if your copier or printer has a hard drive?

“The more functionality a machine has, such as copying, scanning, printing, email, the more likely it is that it has a hard drive,” Mr. Anson told those in attendance.

tgannon@timesreview.com