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Cyber crooks easily restore deleted files on hard drives

Deleting files isn't enough to protect your info
Posted at 7:10 PM, Nov 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-15 00:27:44-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — When you delete files off of your computer, or other storage devices are you sure those files are really gone? News5 uncovered a way cyber criminals and fraudsters are able to easily restore things you believe you erased.

It can be something as simple as a flash drive. They are used to save and back up all sorts of information these days, from family photos to documents and personal financial information.We learned many people will wipe these devices, throw them away, or even sell them, but it turns out hackers can easily bring those deleted files back from the dead.

For this experiment we bought five used flash drives on eBay from a seller in Aurora.We immediately turned the flash drives over to the experts at the National Cybersecurity Center. Working with cybersecurity guru Thomas Russell we analyzed each flash drive.

"The folder is empty and that this is what most people say when they open up a thumb drive thinking that there's absolutely nothing in there," said Russell.

The seller attempted to delete files, but using a free program that anyone at home can download the cybersecurity experts were able to recover hundreds of files from four of the five flash drives in just seconds.

"If I was a cyber criminal I would get a ton of those things they are cheap they are almost free and I would spend all day just going through every single one of those thumb drives and I guarantee that the hacker will strike gold eventually because people do not erase the information," said Russell.

We recovered photos, videos, human resources documents, names and phone numbers, it's all information cyber criminals can use to their advantage.

"Right away they have enough information to make them credible and that's what they want in the first place is to get you to believe that they're credible in what they are calling you for. Right?," asked News5 Investigative Reporter Patrick Nelson.

"Absolutely, and also they can send an email out to all those employees and make it look good and make it come from one of their own employees and you would never know sometimes," replied Russell.

Russell says there are ways to completely wipe files from your flash drives and hard drives, but people rarely take that extra step.

"It's not erased until someone actually overwrites them or uses some special programs or some special applications to delete them," said Russell.

So what should we do with our file storage devices?

"People should keep the thumb drives they have and destroy them themselves if they are not going to use them or if they going to use them over and over again before matter format them fully and that way they can ensure that there is no leftover files," said Russell.

And cybersecurity experts say you should never toss old computers or flash drives in the garbage.

"Anykind of thing that stores information I would never throw it away because somebody can retrieve it. We have the term called dumpster diving. That's what it is. Literally that's what people do when they go into the garbage to take out things and if they find the thumb drive that somebody threw away that's like a gold mine to a hacker," said Russell.

The experts say ultimately if you don't want to take any chances destroying the technology is a sure-fire way you make sure noone will be able to access your device or information.

It cost News5 just $30 to buy these used flash drives online which contained all that information and cyber experts are encouraging businesses to do more training to keep our information safe.

Check out this web extra: Cyber experts: Use encryption to stop cyber criminals

Here are some useful websites and resources to help you get questions answered and keep your files and personal information safe: