GAO Considers Request to Reopen Mag Tape Investigation

No word yet on Imation's assertion that tapes may still contain sensitive data

February 15, 2008

2 Min Read
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4:35 PM

By Tim Wilson
Site Editor, Dark Reading

The Government Accountability Office still has not responded to warnings that "erased" magnetic tapes currently being resold by federal government agencies may contain recoverable data.

In a Jan. 22 letter to the GAO, congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) requested that the GAO reconsider its sanctioning of the resale of used magnetic tapes by government agencies.

More than three weeks after the letter was sent, McCollum still has not received an answer, a spokesman said earlier today.McCollum's request was triggered by researchers at storage vendor Imation, who questioned a September GAO report, which concluded an investigation into the recoverability of data on magnetic tapes.

In its investigation, the GAO spoke to five companies, including several of the companies that resell federal government storage media, about the potential recoverability of data on the magnetic tapes. The GAO found that the risk of an attacker recovering sensitive data from the tapes was minimal, and it allowed federal agencies to continue reselling the erased surplus storage media.

After the GAO approval was issued, however, researchers at Imation, which makes magnetic tapes, reported that they were able to recover a wide range of sensitive information from used data tapes that were supposedly wiped clean before being resold.

Using "readily available" equipment and information, Imation investigators found out where the tapes originated and recovered bank account numbers, expense reports, employee tax and benefit information, and other sensitive data.McCollum, who represents the district where Minnesota-based Imation has its headquarters, believes that the Imation research was "more thorough" than the GAO study. She has asked that the GAO reopen the investigation.

"If federal agencies are selling used magnetic storage tapes on the open market with this level of recoverable sensitive data available to anyone with minimum technical skills or equipment," McCollum wrote to the GAO, "we should all be alarmed and demanding greater accountability from federal agencies engaged in such sales."The letter has been referred to the GAO's computer forensics office, McCollum's spokesman said, but no response has yet been issued. Federal agencies continue to recycle and resell the tapes.

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  • Imation Corp.

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