The public's level cybersecurity understanding means we have to do something different.

The industry has done a poor job of educating the public or making it clear to the public various cybersecurity risks. The high level of trust the public has in the software installed on used purchases is one of those areas.

Would you use a dirty plate in a restaurant if the server took someone else's plate, wiped the food off with their rag, and then put the plate in front of you?

Basic Security

People have no qualms doing the computer equivalent of the dirty plate when buying used computers. They buy a used computer with an operating system already installed.  They boot the machine and start using it. The buyers trust the installation and use that computer for their most private transactions. We have plenty of evidence that people receive machines with malware, bot-ware, or intrusive software that sends data back to some other servers. 

The same people would never log into their bank account on some random machine they find sitting unlocked in a coffee shop.

Risks

A used machine has the potential for a variety of risks that are often ignored. Risks include:
  • Deliberate malware
  • Accidental malware
  • Monitoring Software
  • Keyloggers - a kind of monitoring
  • Botnet software
  • Incriminating or embarrassing images and files
  • Unlicensed software

Chromebook Powerwash

All devices should come with some single button erase and re-install feature similar to Chromebook Powerwash. Currently, the Chromebook is the only platform that has anything even close to this with its Powerwash functionality.

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Stories that make me sad

I recently sold a computer without an operating system on eBay. I erased and then encrypted the drive and then threw away the encryption keys. The purchaser demanded to return the machine because it was useless to them because it didn't have Microsoft windows installed. The machine had a Windows COA. I told them it had a COA and that they could install the Operating System from Thumb Drive and pointed them at the web site. They were not happy.

I told them it was a huge security risk to accept a machine that was installed and configured by some random stranger. I tried to explain that they should never trust someone like me to provide them a virus-free installation. The buyer said they had done it plenty of times. They viewed a machine as "unusable" without a pre-installed operating system. You can guess how the conversation went from there.

What to do with a used machine

There are plenty of sites that describe how to clean a used machine.  Many recommend some portion or all of the following.
  1. Assume the machine is compromised.
  2. Do not let the used machine on the local network until after re-install
  3. Discard the hard drive or vigorously clean it.
    1. Erase and scrub the hard drive
    2. Encrypt the hard drive and then format without the keys
  4. Install a fresh operating system from fresh boot media.

Created 10/22


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