VICTORIA, B.C. - A journalism professor at the University of British Columbia says sensitive international security data and personal information are showing up in computer dumps frequented by criminal gangs around the world.
Emmy Award winning journalist Peter Klein's graduate students visited China, India, and what they are calling a digital dumping ground in Ghana.
It was in the African nation that the e-waste focused, where students found discarded computers with intact hard drives, Klein said Tuesday.
"Ghana is a huge destination for electronic waste, and the reason is because it's not imported or exported to there, but it sort of ends up there in a tricky way," he said. "People say that they're donating working computers, but in fact they're broken computers and they end up in dumps there."
Klein said the students wanted to find out if cyber criminals are gaining access to computer hard drives found in the Ghana dumps.
"We certainly found out from folks at markets near the dumps that these criminals come by and scan the drives for information," he said.
The students wanted to test what they could find for themselves, so they bought several hard drives from the vendors near the Ghana dumps, said Klein.
"They looked at them in Ghana and we brought them back and looked at them further in Vancouver, and we found that these drives had all sorts of personal information on them," he said. "Credit card numbers, family photographs, resumes, all the sort of stuff we have on our computers."
But one of the hard drives was corporate from Northrup Grumman, a major U.S. military contractor, Klein said.
"That drive happened to have details of multi-million-dollar U.S. contracts with high level government agencies, The Pentagon, (U.S.) Homeland Security, places like that," he said.
Klein said the class reported the find to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and they "were certainly concerned about it."
The students contacted Northrup Grumman, who would not grant an interview, but said the company was trying to find out how the hard drive ended up in Ghana.
Klein said the students were not able to determine if any of the computer data was actually used to commit crimes.
"We really don't know what's happened. All we know is the circumstantial evidence," he said. "The data's out there in markets in a country that's known to have high levels of cyber-fraud."
The findings of the journalism class are part of a 20-minute television documentary scheduled to air Tuesday night on PBS in the United States and Canada.