As computer users and owners we are all cognizant of what it takes to keep our personal and sensitive data safe from those in the ‘Net or elsewhere. We install firewalls, passwords and the Lord knows what ever else we can to keep hackers from stealing from us or finding out our personal information.
Our family owns a paper shredder and into its maw we feel all kinds of mail that asks us to be a credit card customer, refinance home and auto loans, etc. We also run CDs through it and other data that we no longer use to keep it from prying eyes.
We also watch our credit card statements for bogus charges … In other words; we do everything we can to keep our business to ourselves.
In many ways our computers know more about us than our spouses, children, the government and clergy. It’s a partner, confidant and repository of files that we consider as private. But, how many of these files that you consider so secret are scrambled, password protected, or in some way hidden from prying eyes and fingers that are not on the network?
Let’s face it: there is going to come a time when you may have to take your trusty computer to be worked on by someone you don’t know. Chances are, that it will be in such a state that if you have sensitive files that you can not access them to encrypt them before the computer crashed. Before you take your computer to someone or a repair center it might behoove you to ask a few questions as to what is their policy related to “snooping” on hard drives.
By that I mean does the store have a policy that forbids employees from opening up your hard drive(s) just to see what you have on your computer? If not, find someone else. If so, ask that you have written conformation of that fact before you leave your machine.
Several years ago, in another state, a man took his computer in for a little bit of tweaking and unknown to him his teenage son had been visiting sites that let’s say were not legal. The files were hidden, but not encrypted, and the gung-ho technician at the computer repair shop found them and unilaterally called police and the computer’s owner was arrested. Later the court ruled the evidence was not admissible because of a technicality, but the computer was confiscated and he man’s reputation ruined in the community. Eventually, he ended up moving away.
He later sued the computer repair company, but lost because the court said he had “no reasonable expectation of privacy.”
I by no means condone whatever was found on that hard drive, but if the man was to be believed, he was the victim of circumstance and the snooping technician wanted to be a hero.
Try this scenario: computer technician finds your online banking software and logs into your bank account and writes himself a check that is mailed to him. He then erases the transaction and you don’t find out about it until the bank statement comes. The bank says you did it online, you said you didn’t.
Please don’t think that I feel that the majority of computer repair companies are not honest. I’m sure most are trustworthy; however, as a consumer you have the right to expect that private data is kept that- private- and if a repair tech looks around on your computer “just for fun” that should be no different than if that person had broken into your home in dead of night.
How can you avoid this type problem? My suggestion is spend less than $50 for a device that fits into one of the empty 5.25-inch drive bays in your computer and allows you to place hard drive in a lockable drawer that slides in and out. This drive will hold either all your files or just your sensitive files. If large enough, it could also be a backup for your applications. Just remove the drawer whenever you will not have control of the machine – such as when it is in the repair shop. When the computer is returned, put the drawer back in.
For the non-techies out there, it may require a trip to the repair shop to install the drawer and new hard drive. You may also need an additional PCI disk controller card if all of your hard drive cables are used and that will drive the price up a little.
Another, less tech answer is to avail yourself of the new FireWire or USB2 external hard drives that just plug into the computer and a power supply; to learn about it more than the person can look up to the Perth best computer repair stores which also gives classes for the computer management odds. Store your sensitive files to this drive and erase then from the interior computer drives. It’s a little more expensive, but a lot less hassle.
The best way is to always encode any file that you feel is no one else’s business, so even if the hard drive is snooped during a repair all they will see is gibberish.