Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A very nifty piece of investigative journalism

I was very interested to read an article in the Daily Mail about the shenanigans and dishonesty of computer repair shops and firms. A laptop computer was sent to six companies for repair, with very interesting - not to mention infuriating! - results. A few extracts from the article:

Investigators wired a new laptop with hidden cameras and spy software that operated without the engineers' knowledge.

The laptop had been given an easily identifiable fault: a loose memory chip that stopped the computer from starting.

To get it working, the chip simply needed to be popped back into position.

. . .

Shortly after identifying the real fault, the firm's engineer called to say the computer needed a new motherboard, costing £130.

The surveillance software then recorded a technician browsing through the files on the hard drive, including intimate holiday photos, some showing the Sky researcher in her bikini.

As the technician snooped through the files, he was filmed grinning and showing the pictures to another colleague.

Later in the same shop, a second technician loaded up the machine to look through the photos - stored inside a folder marked 'private'.

Laughing, the repairman loaded the pictures onto a memory stick he kept round his neck - which the software found was also packed with similar photos in a folder labelled 'Mamma Jammas' - street slang for women with large breasts.

He also copied a file containing passwords for Facebook, Hotmail, eBay and a NatWest bank account.

Once the technician had discovered this information, he opened a web browser on the laptop and attempted to log into the bank account for five minutes - failing because the details were false.

. . .

Only one shop came out with a clean bill of health. ... The company popped the chip back into place, and for free.

There's much more at the link, including photographs.

Readers, if you send your computer to an outside firm for repair (whether a work or a personal computer), you really should read the whole article. It's pretty sobering stuff. It's certainly confirmed my practice of keeping all my important data on remote hard disks, that I can lock in my safe if my computer needs repair. I also purge my local hard disk of 'mirror' and workspace files on a regular basis, to make sure that no personal information is left on it.



Stingray said...

Hate to say, but I could've told you this without the need for a whole investigative report. Sleazy computer repair is the norm, not the exception. Remember all those tales and stereotypes of mechanics that would see an obviously clueless woman come in with a simple problem, then rip her off for a new transmogrifcation gear? Now remember how everybody treated the nerds interested in computers in school, and how much Joe Average knows about computers beyond "power button and clicky thing?"

The good news is that while sleazy, more are honest than outright criminal. You'll probably get your browser history looked at (this one's a certainty if they're trying to de-virus your machine), and the innate curiosity found in the type that gravitate to tech work will probably cause a peek around your pictures, but not much more. Like I said, sleazy, but not outright criminal like the ones in the article that went for bank info.

Finding a computer repair shop you trust can be worse than finding a good dentist/mechanic/lawyer all in one if you can't DIY. If you do have to use such a shop, or might in the future, take some time now to familiarize yourself with and start using TrueCrypt or Gnu PG. Yet another minor pain in rear to add to your computing arsenal, but it beats having that picture from last Arbor Day become the next viral "You gotta see this!" picture.

Orwell's Ghost said...

I agree that it's vital to safeguard your information. Some people find it best to have their browser and important files run off of a flash drive; everything works normally and there's no record on the computer itself.