According to security experts Sophos a man has been arrested after allegedly trying to sell a hard drive which had previously belonged to Formula One racing driver Adrian Sutil and contained personal and financial data.

The police in Germany are said to be questioning the man regarding a blackmail attempt concerning both Sutil and fellow F1 driver, and global media sensation, Lewis Hamilton. Reports suggest that the man, currently only being referred to as Dieter, had tried to sell the disk to Bild Motorsport magazine, a racing enthusiast publication in Germany, for 10,000 Euros. And the reason for any media interest in such a mundane thing? The usual combination of ignorance over exactly what data remains on your PC when you dispose of it, and greed. Not just the financial greed of the blackmailer, but the greed of the media and the general public for information about any given celebrity.

In this case the hard drive was said to contain "personal information, details of Swiss bank account transactions, photographs, and private correspondence between the 25-year-old German who drives for Force India, and his racing ace friend, Lewis Hamilton." The drive had been disposed of a year earlier by Adrian Sutil's father Jorge who had failed to properly remove all the data it contained before dumping it.

German police set up a classic sting operation after being tipped off by the magazine, and undercover detectives arrested Dieter at an autobahn service station outside Munich where he thought the exchange was going to take place. Dieter now faces charges of attempted blackmail and possession of stolen personal data and if found guilty could face a maximum of five years imprisonment.

"This is a timely reminder to businesses and individuals alike to securely wipe your PCs' hard drive before disposing of an old computer. Whether you are taking the PC down to the rubbish tip, selling it onto a friend, or giving it to charity, it is critical that the data on it is properly overwritten and permanently erased," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "This is computer security 101. Identity thieves have been known to hang around junkyards picking up old computers just minutes after they have been dropped off, and then using data recovery tools to see if financial records, passwords and other information useful for stealing identities can be unearthed. And if you're a business or mega-rich celebrity such as a Formula One driver, the losses can be even more acute."

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

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