For Sale: Used computer with secret NASA Space Shuttle data

NASA facilities resell computers with data unwiped, disks thrown out carelessly


Be glad this isn't your PC. Or one you were responsible for decommissioning:

NASA recycles PCs when it's finished with them by wiping their disks and making them available to the public, mainly by selling them to resellers and recyclers who part them our or recycle them for resale.

NASA and every other government agency with secret data are supposed to go through elaborate wipe-and-confirm processes to make sure not only that they've deleted data, but that the deleted files have been copied over with nonsense data, which are then also deleted, copied over and deleted.

According to an audit by NASA's Inspector General, covering June 2009 to June 2001, NASA released 10 of 14 computers that had failed tests to make sure they'd been wiped properly.

Many of the machines were being decommissioned as NASA scaled down its Space Shuttle program.

Of the remaining four, one contained data describing Space Shuttle technology that was sensitive enough that it would have been illegal to ship it out of the country.

It's impossible to know whether sensitive data was released accidentally, auditors said.

Pallets filled with old PCs were also found in the recycling facility with NASA stickers and IP addresses still attached to the cases.

The audit also discovered dozens of hard drives missing from the Kennedy Space Center and NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia and the Ames Research Center some of which were later found in a dumpster in an unsecured area where anyone could have recovered them.

Auditors found three NASA sites were using unapproved data-scrubbing software, officials didn't account for or track hard drives, and IT managers weren't notified when a drive failed during sanitation or wasn't put through the data-wiping procedure at all.

NASA's CIO is updating the sanitation policy, but inspectors are still peeved.

"We consider the recommendations to be unresolved."

Here's the full report (PDF).

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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