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Safe disposal of eWaste can help reduce cyber crime

08:30am August 31 2023

A worker at WV Technologies sanitises an old laptop. (Supplied)

Every year, Australians dump millions of dollars worth of old laptops and smartphones often still loaded with sensitive personal information, and it could be costing them. 

More than half a million tons of eWaste is produced annually, according to a government report. About two-thirds of that goes to landfill, placing a considerable burden on the environment, while the remaining third that is re-used or recycled is often not properly sanitised, representing a significant data security risk.  

“In our experience, about one in every 250 devices that go on the second-hand market is not wiped, and when you consider that there’s about 10 million devices going out every year, that’s a lot,” says Kurt Gruber, director and co-founder of data security firm WV Technologies. 

Even when people do clear personal data from their laptops, they often leave a digital footprint on the hard drive, where bad actors can still unearth sensitive information such as credit card details, Gruber says.

The risks are just as great for organisations, and Gruber cites one example of a dumped hard drive he came across that had encryption codes to a state transport network stored on it. 

Kurt Gruber, director and co-founder of WV Technologies. (Supplied)

WV Technologies was the first company in Australia to be awarded AAA certification from the U.S. based National Association of Information Destruction (NAID). It has also been endorsed by the Australian government to undertake data destruction of top secret classified material. 

The Canberra-based social enterprise, which is supported by Westpac Foundation, works with a range of government agencies and major corporations on secure data decommissioning, but Gruber says the issue is still not being taken seriously enough. 

“It’s so risky to not use a NAID-certified supplier for your IT disposals,” he says. “It’s surprising the level of clients that will trust operators offering to do the service for free. They might be cheaper than a certified supplier, but you don’t know what sort of service you’re going to get.”

The costs for not safely disposing of old IT hardware are growing. Under revisions to the Privacy Act enacted last year, the government has the ability to impose much tougher fines on organisations for not taking reasonable steps to protect data. 

Secure IT asset disposal at WV's Canberra operation. (Supplied)

Gruber acknowledges that for individuals there’s a lack of affordable options to dispose of their eWaste safely and that just deleting files does not work. You can buy software that will erase personal data from a device, but it can be confusing to use, risky to buy online, and no sovereign solutions exist. Many people who are aware of the risks often end up just storing their old devices at home.  

With our work and personal lives increasingly entwined on our devices, the onus is on organisations to find ways to help their staff dispose of them safely, Gruber says.  

“Sometimes we buy batches of hard drives from eBay and we often find data on them from governments, retailers, health providers, every type of organisation,” Gruber says. “It’s just so easy to get hold of, so it’s unrealistic to think that malicious actors aren’t also getting hold of it.”

Meanwhile, Gruber is just as passionate about the work WV Technologies does to provide employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Earlier this year, the group was named Business of the Year at the NAIDOC Canberra awards for its work in Indigenous procurement and social impact. 

“For us, it’s not just about giving people a job, but also providing the wraparound support they need to capitalise on that job.”

WV Technologies has provided 95 jobs and 139 training opportunities to people who face complex barriers to work including First Nations young people.

Westpac Foundation has committed $300,000 over three years to support WV Tech through its parent company, Worldview Foundation, helping them to scale the business and support plans to expand their operations to Brisbane and Melbourne.

James Thornhill was appointed as editor of Westpac Wire in May 2022. Prior to joining the bank, he was a business and financial journalist with more than two decades of experience with international newswires. Most recently, he was a resources correspondent for Bloomberg, covering the mining and energy sectors, and previously reported on a broad range of topics from economics and politics to currency and bond markets. Originally from the UK, he’s had stints working in London, New York and Singapore, but is now happily settled in Sydney.

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