Commentary: Frightening reality of the 'copy machine'

By Robb Hicken

Dolan Media Newswires

BOISE, ID--Every company these days has one of those copiers that multi-task.

You know, it not only copies, it faxes, receives e-mails, it prints colors, collates, prints two sides, staples and does everything but bring you lunch.

If you think about it, they could help bring you lunch.

We have one of ''those'' machines in our office, and I absolutely love it. If it were able, I'd take it to lunch for the great job it does for us.

But, after I talked with Molli Wingert, I suddenly feared the vortex it may bring to life in our office.

Each year, thousands of e-mails, faxes, or photocopied items are sent through the machine. They range from business materials, to personnel records and files. In some cases those files contain the very information that identity thieves are after: Addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, banking information, and sometimes even more personal information.

We make a copy, send it off to some corporate office and pray that it falls in the right ''in'' basket.

Now, I'm not saying people in the office where you work are thieves, but the huge potential for damage may come after the machine is returned. That fine line between when the agreement ends and someone else is given the refurbished machine.

You see, what most people don't understand is that the copier actually has a hard drive. Yep, it's a computer in there just like the one on your desk or the laptop in your backpack. It has every image, key stroke and more in its memory to allow it to function properly. Necessary? Yes. The more complex the copier, the more complex its hard drive.

I'm no computer genius, so when Molli was explaining this to me, I cringed. I realized how many times I'd faxed off to corporate headquarters personnel information using the office copier.

Why does Molli know so much about this? She's the president of Secure Data Sanitization, a computer company that cleans off hard drives.

Molli said, and she wasn't just trying to get my business, most businesses pay little attention to the details of what happens at the end of the contract.

''Businesses are usually so concerned with what they are getting on the use end of the machine that they don't ask questions when the contract expires,'' she told me last week.

The fine print should include things like the cost of cleaning a hard drive when the copier is taken at the end of a contract. Also, look for points dealing with breakdowns and replacement uses.

''Remember, if they take your copier, the hard drive goes with it,'' she said. ''And, then, what happens when they return it and take the 'replacement' back? Do they clean the hard drive again?''

The other point that frightened me was the fines that could be levied against the company if information was taken and used because of a failure to have the hard drive wiped clean. Thousands of dollars in fines could be placed on the company that failed to secure financial and personal information.

''You just never know,'' she said. ''Who ever put the information on there is their responsibility.''

I had been told numerous times to make certain that the hard drive is cleared before you donate a computer to a charitable cause, or give it to a family member. The reason was self-apparent. ''Your personal information is in that machine.''

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Published: Thu, Jul 15, 2010

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