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Shipley, Rankin letters on used PCs

Press release


September 15, 2000

Shipley, Rankin letters on used PCs

An investigation by information technology weekly Computerworld has uncovered sensitive government and commercial documents on PCs bought from a second-hand dealer.

Correspondence in the name of then prime minister Jenny Shipley and WINZ chief executive designate Christine Rankin are among the documents from two PCs which appear to have originated at a government agency. Another PC, which was apparently owned by a well-known finance company, contains letters to mortgage holders behind in their repayments.

Computerworld set out to show the unreliability of standard methods of wiping data from computer hard drives before their disposal. It commissioned Auckland company Computer Forensics NZ Ltd. to analyse drives of second-hand PCs bought at random.

"The people who disposed of these PCs should be very embarrassed, " said Computerworld editor Anthony Doesburg. "If they made any attempt at all to delete the data on these PCs, they failed."

Computer Forensics managing director Brian Eardley-Wilmot said the investigation was a wake-up call to computer administrators who thought reformatting a hard disk or dragging files to the trash was all it took to delete data. Files must be over-written to destroy them, he said.

"IT managers are generally meticulous about internal security procedures," he said. But the work his firm carried out for Computerworld demonstrated "appalling carelessness", which he believed to be common.

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What the files said

The files found by Computer Forensics included the following material:

>From a letter by WINZ chief executive designate Christine Rankin to staff on organisational and benefit changes: " I can guarantee that there will be lots of change from 1 October onwards ... As the saying goes, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, and much of the finer detail is still to be worked out ..."

>From a 1998 letter by Prime Minister Jenny Shipley replying to a query about employment and expressing sympathy about the untimely death of a young man: "It is clear that the longer job seekers are out of work the higher the risk that they will lose their motivation, self-esteem and

connection with the community, with the sad result that a number of job seekers get to the point of giving up ..."

Among correspondence on internal financial matters were several letters to customers of Avco Finance: 'I am extremely disappointed that you have not kept your arrangements to pay your account ..."If you fail to comply, Avco intends to pursue this

matter through other agencies ..." "We will no longer tolerate your inaction ..."

Further details

Computerworld's investigation is detailed in its September 18 issue. For more information contact:

Computerworld editor Anthony Doesburg, ph 0-9-302 8763 Computer Forensics NZ Ltd. managing director Brian Eardley-Wilmot, ph 0-9-359 9424


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