Most office copy machines are equipped with a hard drive that stores images of every scanned, faxed and printed document. The images are often retained, in an unencrypted file, until the disk fills and the oldest data is overwritten.
Which means that the tax returns you copied at the office last year may still be there. Or your company financials may have just left the building with that off-lease copier.
Some copiers have privacy and security software available. Sharp and Xerox copiers, for example, can overwrite images so that they don't remain on the hard drive after the print job finishes. Discuss these features with your vendor; understand them and implement appropriate security policies.
In April of 2010, the subject of copier hard drives gained national attention thanks to CBS News investigative report. A reporter purchased four used copiers from a New Jersey warehouse and found, among other things, documents from the Buffalo, New York Police Department. While CBS producers said that much of the information had been removed from the copiers, they were still able to retrieve documents containing details of drug and sex crimes.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said, "The city's Information Technologies department has a system whereby the memory of the copiers is erased between one day and 30 days. Unfortunately, the Police Department had its own internal IT and was not utilizing the same process as Buffalo City Hall was."
So what can you do to avoid this kind of publicity? Here are a few tips for good copier security:
- Be careful what you copy. Avoid copying personal information on work or public machines. Especially if you have no control over how those machines are administered.
- If you're leasing a machine, discuss end of life security with your service provider to ensure that copy machine hard drives will be completely erased when the machine is removed.
- The other alternative is to destroy or erase the disk yourself before selling the machine or allowing it to be removed from your business.