Retro Storage: Floppy Disk Experiment, Part 1

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What is a floppy disk? Developed in the late 1960’s, the floppy disk is an extremely dated form of data storage comprised of a flexible magnetic storage disk, enclosed in hard plastic. Who still uses a floppy disk? Unless you work with legacy hardware or a retro enthusiast, almost no one uses them anymore. Most people just throw this dated media storage away, not giving a second thought to what data it could still contain. Here at Data Analyzers, we do Data Recovery, Digital Forensics, Data Migration and eDiscovery. We decided to perform an experiment to see just how well people handle their data even if it’s on a medium as old and obsolete as a floppy disk.

First, we scoured eBay in search of a variety of floppy disks. One of our talented engineers came across an online store that sells everything they salvage from clearing houses and older businesses, they have lots of floppy disks, zip drives, data tapes, etc. We decided to buy two lots of assorted floppy disks from this seller, one had 100 disks and the second contained 20 disks. This was the description of the floppy disk lots they had for sale:

“Inspected. Used, but reusable. Have old labels on them. Discs contain various unknown files from unknown users or are software discs that can be reformatted. Must be formatted before use.”

We received them promptly and as advertised, the lot of 20 disks was just computer software, like WordPerfect, drivers for hardware and miscellaneous other programs. The second lot of 100 disks is where everything changed.

Over 8 of the floppy disks contained personal information of various degrees. For example, some of the floppy disks came from a community college. Many of the disks came from their office of grants and admissions, throughout all of the disks we can see the full name and social security numbers for all of their students from 2002 through 2006, over 700 unique students. Another example, and an interesting side note, two disks contained a revision of two patents. This private, intellectual property now belongs to the highest bidder on eBay.

The lesson learned by this experiment is: if you are going to dispose of any valuable data, whether it is stored on hard drives, flash drives, tapes or even floppy disks – make absolutely sure to perform a full format, never a quick format.

If you do not have the proper drive to read the media or simply no longer need the data, we recommend getting rid of the media by contacting a recycling center that destroys them. In the event that you held onto your floppy disks and may want to pursue recovering the data you once held dear, you can always contact Data Analyzers at 866-456-DATA.

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