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Eureka: The Fine Art of Dumpster Diving

Science Not FictionBy Stephen CassSeptember 11, 2008 2:52 AM


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Last night on Eureka, Sherriff Carter was faced with a bumbling superhero who had constructed his gear from discarded pieces of technology thrown out by the town's scientists. In this, our wannabe superhero was participating in the ultimate expression of the fine old art of dumpster diving. While rooting through someone else's trash for food or other essentials is often done out of necessity by unfortunates, dumpster diving here means the specific act of searching through commercial waste for technological cast offs, such as computers or computer peripherals. Often times the only thing wrong with this equipment is that it is simply not the latest model, and so has been replaced. Other times there is cosmetic damage only, or even when something is genuinely broken or worn out, it can be cannibalized for parts, such as disk drives. Dumpster diving is one way recycled hard disks can end up being sold on places like ebay. There have been several reported cases of people purchasing disk drives at auction, only to find they have medical records or other confidential information still on them from their previous owners. This is why when you throw or give away a computer, you should always, always, always make sure the disk is blanked. You must use a "secure erase" program as it is otherwise trivial to scan the disk for sensitive information such as credit card numbers. Just dragging the files into the trash and emptying the trash won't do as this as it will leave the file still intact on the hard disk—your files must be physically overwritten. A secure erase command may be already built into your operating system, otherwise you can download free software to do this.

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