Weirdest things IT people have found on company laptops

Employers often warn employees not to click on strange links that could invite malware into their work networks, but they should also remind them to be careful not to mix their personal lives with their company laptops.

If you talk to enough computer experts, you quickly come to a conclusion: when you go about your personal life on your work computer, chances are someone will see it later.

So, with that in mind, here are some of the things that tend to show up on company-owned laptops and, well, probably almost every computer and device.

1. Porn

Well, duh. Yet some company laptops given out by employees, usually when they leave their jobs, but also when they simply upgrade to a better laptop, contain a surprising amount of sexual material.

I happened to run scans on company computers or track internet activity to find that an executive was watching six to eight hours of porn every…one…day,” says Nizel Adams, owner of Nizel information technology consulting services firm in Chicago.

Adams said some people leave behind their own X-rated photos, sometimes mixed in with their family photos.

2. Illegally downloaded movies, music and TV

It’s also quite common, according to Adams. Believe me, at least 3-5% of employees in every company do this,” he says.

An executive working for one of Adams’ clients was distributing cellular hotspots to sales reps.

“Keep in mind that these hotspots were using a shared data pool. So when one or two hotspots start using more than 200 GB of data per month when everyone else is supposed to use only 4 GB “It’s noticeable and affects everyone. The overage fees were astronomical. It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars accrued over a period of time,” he says.

3. Old Love Letters

Andreas Grant is a network security engineer in Stockholm, Sweden, and maintains a website, Network Hardware, which helps users choose the right networking equipment for their home. But Grant started his career as a computer assistant and was responsible for managing the laptops of a company’s employees. He said he once found a returned employee laptop that had a love letter on it — an incomplete love letter.

“The intended recipient and the writer were still working in the office, so it was weird to have that knowledge. I didn’t end up reporting any of it, but it was definitely a great lesson for me to be careful,” Grant says.

This is something to keep in mind – if you’re holding a torch for someone in your office and you’ve written down your feelings in a Word document, ask yourself if you’d like all of your colleagues to know about it.

4. An unpublished novel with unflattering findings

“Once we found a novel that a member of staff had written,” says Anthony Cummings, director of IT services at Frank Recruitment Groupspecializing in the recruitment of IT professionals.

He was an ex-employee who had just returned a laptop. “Nothing too unusual about that,” Cummings said – eexcept that as he started to read the 150,000 words, trying to discern its importance and if it could be erased, the setting and many of the characters started to feel really, really familiar.

The novel was essentially a fictional story about Frank Recruitment, and the characters were pretty unflattering, Cummings says.

5. Weird stuff on, not in, the laptop

SSometimes people close their laptops and leave things inside, sandwiched between the screen and the keyboard.

Corey Donovan, president of Minnesota-based Alta Technologies, sees it often.

He says his company, which buys and sells new, used and refurbished servers, removes the drives as soon as they arrive to erase them and the systems are never actually booted.

So Donovan doesn’t know what’s actually inside the laptops he receives, but what he sees on the outside of them is bad enough. Many laptops contain eraser, candy bars and pencils. (Alta Technologies gets a lot of laptops from schools.)

But a lot of adults also leave stuff on their laptops, according to Donovan.

“We received many laptops with physical Post-it notes labeled, detailing bank accounts, passwords, logins, and even 12-word recovery phrases for crypto wallets,” says Donovan. “Our staff shreds all such material, but not all downstream recipients may be so ethical.”

Eric Strickler is the CEO of PCRx Inc., a managed service provider for small and medium-sized businesses. Years ago, however, his company repaired computers. He, too, has found some really weird stuff smashed into laptops, ranging from harmless to gross. On the harmless side, a bobby pin, safety pin, oatmeal and oatmeal – somewhat normal, albeit weird. On the raw side: a condom, used; cat vomit; a person’s vomit; dead insects; a dead baby lizard; alcohol; urine.

This has often happened with student-owned laptops. As to why, “I never understood,” Strickler says.

6. Criminal activity

Yes, that happens too. Adams said he once dumped everything on an executive’s laptop and found videos of women’s feet and areas of the body that clothing typically hid.

Adams thought the surrounding areas of the video – the carpet, the desk – looked familiar and sure enough, once he and a security guard investigated, there was a small web camera under the manager’s desk with wires leading to the laptop docking station. The company security team took it from there.

Sometimes working in IT reminds you that there is a much darker side to life that thankfully the vast majority of people can hope never to experience.

A few things to remember

When you bring in your laptop, computer, phone, or similar items for recycling, ideally you’ll be disposing of the information yourself rather than letting someone else do it. And you really need to erase your hard drive – your computer has settings that can do this for you – rather than, say, trying to physically break the laptop in, which may or may not work.

“We’ve seen people take a hammer and hit a hard drive and think the data has been deleted. Unfortunately, this is not the case”, explains Rahul Mahna, Managing Director of Managed Security Services at EisnerDigital Amperan accounting and tax firm.

Mahna adds that many personal computers end up in the local landfill, thinking the recycling center will destroy them.

“They leave all types of data behind and don’t realize that people are actually coming to the landfill and taking valuable assets out of computers, like memory, hard drives and video cards, and then gaining access to the data residing there” , Mahna said.

It’s also important to remember to always protect your information — personal or business — on your company laptop or other device while you’re using it, says Eric Sackowitz, co-founder and chief technical officer of SecureCoa business-to-business cybersecurity and internet privacy company.

In other words, don’t be so concerned about your data being stolen or seen later that you forget to protect it now.

But Sackowitz agrees that leaving his personal life on company laptops is definitely a problem.

“In my 35 years of managing small and large scale IT teams, I’ve found many interesting ‘left behind’ items on machines left behind when an employee leaves or on decommissioned equipment that were part of an upgrade,” says Sackowitz. He said these items include “banking information, personal photos, videos, resumes, emails to relatives, dating apps/games, plain text documents with account passwords and even social security numbers and dates of birth, including their children.”

And that’s what should shake anyone. You may not be worried about an IT team discovering pictures of you in your birthday suit and think you have an extremely boring life on your laptop. But if the wrong person finds your personal information, they may find you quite fascinating.

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