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Men chuck or reformat old devices more so than women

A study commissioned by the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICOI) has revealed that just 11 per cent of 230 discarded second hand hard drives contained personal information.

The ICO contracted security company NCC Group to analyse 200 hard drives, 20 memory sticks and 10 mobile phones to discover how much personal information was left on devices sold on the second hand marker.

Fifty-two per cent of the hard drives were "unreadable" or wiped, 48 per cent "contained information" and 11 per cent contained personal data.

Gender played an important, albeit ambiguous, role too in the information's security post-ownership.

A higher percentage of men (32 per cent) reported throwing their device out with the rubbish, while only 24 per cent of women reported doing so.

On the other hand, 27 per cent of men "physically destroyed" the device, compared with 15 per cent of women.

Men were also more likely (48 per cent) to reformat the device to factor settings than women (35 per cent).

The ICO illustrates just how well consumers and business have dealt with the risk of data loss through the second hand market,

"At least two of the hard drives contained enough information to enable someone to steal the former owner's identity," it said, adding that the ICO found 34,000 files containing personal or corporate information.

These files included scanned bank statements, passports, information on previous driving offences, and some medical details. Corporate and medical details were also available on some drives.

The findings are a sign that consumers and enterprise are actually taking data security seriously, despite conflicting evidence that some corporations expose consumers to risks in the second hand market.

The Australian arm of security vendor Sophos, which acquired 50 USB drives in December 2011, claimed that "lost USB keys have a 66 per cent chance of malware".

Security researcher Paul Ducklin bought the devices at NSW's Rail Corp's lost-property auction.

Still, the ICO's commissioner Christopher Graham warned against lax attitudes towards data security.

"Today's findings show that people are in danger of becoming a soft touch for online fraudsters simply because organisations and individuals are failing to ensure the secure deletion of the data held on their old storage devices.

"Many people will presume that pressing the delete button on a computer file means that it is gone forever. However this information can easily be recovered.

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