Buying 2nd hand Time Capsules and finding other peoples data

; Date: February 22, 2020

Tags: Personal Security

I am saving a lot of money on Time Capsule devices by buying old Time Capsule's 2nd hand. But every single one I've bought so far came along with the data from the original owner. This warning of course not only applies to Time Capsule devices, but any device with data storage, including computers, tablet computers, cell phones and even digital cameras. So... HEY PEOPLE!!! ERASE YOUR DATA BEFORE SELLING OR DONATING YOUR OLD DEVICES!!!!

What's pictured here is a stack of three Apple Airport Time Capsule's. Two of them have 500 GB disks, and the one on top has a 2 TB disk.

On every one of those Time Capsules the disk had data from the original owner. In the case of the 2TB A1408 Time Capsule:

What's shown here is the mounted disk from this Time Capsule. I've renamed the Time Capsule with my name from whatever name it originally had (I forget), and look - there are two "sparsebundle" files on the disk. In case you don't know, that means this Time Capsule had served as the backup drive for two computers. Clearly one was a Mac Mini owned by someone named Joseph, and the other was an iMac.

When you give away or sell a device, that device is no longer under your control. The data on that device could fall into the hands of someone with nefarious intention. In most cases devices can be easily reset to default settings, and to erase any held data. It is in YOUR best interest to do so before selling the device or donating it to a charity.

I will be erasing this disk, and I've already erased the disks on the other Time Capsules. As for the others, one also had a sparsebundle file, and the other had a bunch of personal files containing some Super Bowl videos as well as some plans for developing a business.

Another time I bought a 3rd hand digital camera - the SD card had a bunch of family pictures, and the camera used one of them as the power-up screen. I erased that SD card and complete reset the camera to get rid of all that.

What if I had a nefarious thought in my mind? Consider, I now have the BACKUPS for two complete computers. What personal secrets are on those BACKUPS? (passwords, personal files, etc)

Fortunately for "Joseph" and "owner123456789" I'm an honest person and will be reformatting the drive in that Time Capsule. What if I weren't such an honest person?

These three Time Capsules were bought via Goodwill - meaning that each were donated to a Goodwill store, and I bought them through an online auction site owned by Goodwill. I imagine that the same could happen through eBay for a careless eBay seller.

It's not like it's hard to erase your electronics device before selling to someone else.

With the Time Capsule, it is very simple -- in the Airport Utility application, go into the settings for your device and click on the Disks tab:

This shows the disks attached to a Time Capsule. On this screen we can set up file sharing options and other parameters - but what's important here is the Erase Disk button. Clicking on this, we get the following:

And this is what we see. There are several options here including a low level wipe that writes zero's on every block on the disk (that takes a long time). The quick erase method is probably sufficient, and takes only a minute or so.

Here's your final chance - but you've decided to sell or give away this device, and this is the right thing to do. I just did it, so - Joseph - if you read this - your data is safe. The erasure was finished before I finished writing the sentences in these final two paragraphs.

It takes only a minute or so to erase this data, and doing so will prevent your sensitive data from getting into other peoples hands.

About the Author(s)

David Herron : David Herron is a writer and software engineer focusing on the wise use of technology. He is especially interested in clean energy technologies like solar power, wind power, and electric cars. David worked for nearly 30 years in Silicon Valley on software ranging from electronic mail systems, to video streaming, to the Java programming language, and has published several books on Node.js programming and electric vehicles.