In my town, Thursdays are garbage days around here and you wouldn’t believe what people throw away. In my neighborhood? It’s a hacker’s paradise. You see, people mistakenly believe that once it goes in the recycling bin, it stays away from prying eyes (like mine, apparently…) but it doesn’t. One gust of wind coughed up a UVM Medical Center bill complete with my neighbor’s outstanding balance, their account number scrawled in black pen on the corner. I picked it up off the street and placed it back in their bin wondering why on earth they didn’t shred the pile of bills sitting right there I plain sight.
Yet what really made my jaw drop was an unassuming laptop case next to the FREE sign. I needed a new case and this one was in really great shape. I lifted it thinking it was empty, but to my delight (and dismay…) it was full. Very full.
I brought the laptop home and plugged it in. It didn’t work, but that really doesn’t mean anything. You see, there’s a device you can buy for under $50 that allows any computer professional access to a hard drive. Did you know that? Yeah, I didn’t either. But even before I discovered the laptop inside, there were other papers inside so that I didn’t even need to check her hard drive to lift her identity. She left behind 3 papers – a 2011 LL Bean credit card bill (complete with her previous address,) and two crayon coloring book pages neatly laid in place with what I had assumed were her children’s names scrawled on top. A quick check on Facebook and I found her. I knew her physical address, her previous address, the names of two of her children and her birthday without even opening a laptop. But it gets worse (or better, depending upon your point of view.)
I got into her laptop and while it had the contents of her 2011 life, I was able to access her past IRS documents (she had scanned them,) so I knew her Social Security number, previous addresses, where she worked, what she made and how many children (including THEIR social security numbers…) with very little effort (about an hour of my time if you include my walk…) So what did I do? I didn’t wanna freak her out, but I did want to protect her.
I brought the laptop to Ship n Destroy and had it destroyed safely and securely.
I made sure they disposed of the lithium battery for me (did you know those can EXPLODE?) I SHREDDED her LL Bean bill from 2011 along with her children’s coloring book pages (yes, I’m heartless.)
And I started writing…
Yes, I was going to knock on her door and show her everything I had uncovered about her, but there was something that felt so very wrong about that for me on so many levels. I decided to write about it because it doesn’t take any real superpowers to be a hacker. If you broke into your sister’s diary in the 7th grade, you pretty much already know how to be a hacker. It’s what you do with sensitive information that reveals your character – who you are as a person. I share this story with you not to humiliate, take advantage of or scorn someone I don’t even know. I share this story because this is OUR story – we can all be laid vulnerable for the stupidest decisions. She probably didn’t even think the contents of that briefcase could put her identity and her financial story in jeopardy. But it happens every day – and SecurShred prides itself on protecting your data, devices and our environment by sharing these cautionary tales and making it easy and affordable to protect your sensitive data.