Office photocopiers brimming with corporate secrets

Most people fail to realize that modern, multi-purpose photocopiers contain hard drives that – if not erased when decommissioned – could prove to be a treasure trove of confidential information for a person who knows how to extract it.

We shred hard copies of important documents and we securely wipe the disks on out computers, but rare is the instance when the same is done with the drive of the copy machine, because most people don’t think of it as of a computer – which it in fact is.

“The whole system is controlled by a computer, it has a hard disk. It scans images and they are stored on the disc,” says Graeme Hirst, a computer science professor with the University of Toronto.

That also means that a hacker that knows the password can hack into the photocopier and collect all the data stored on the drive by simply connecting a laptop to the machine and downloading it. Copy machines that are part of an insecure network can be accessed online even by people who don’t know how to hack.

But machines that are leased to companies and that are taken back after a few years can do some serious damage to their former “owners”. Sometimes they are destined for the dump, but they are also often serviced and sold to someone else. According to the Toronto Star, dealers who resell them usually wipe the disks, but there are those who end up directly into the hands of the future user and still contain all the data.

To secure that confidential data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, the hard drives ought to be physically taken out and purged or even replaced. Since the process is costly and long, clearing the memory and changing the passcodes is also an option.

Lately, Xerox and some other manufacturers of photocopiers have made the process of removing the drive and secure wiping it a lot easier, but the main problem is the fact that most people don’t think about the ramifications of their everyday use of technology.