Shredded paper document recreated under DARPA challenge

Consumer Reports News: December 06, 2011 12:43 PM

A good paper shredder can tear a personal document to thousands of pieces which makes recovery nearly impossible, right? Sure. But a team of computer programmers in San Francisco recently won $50,000 for beating the U.S. Defense Department's challenge: Recreate a note that was torn into more than 10,000 tiny fragments.

According to Defense Dept.'s DARPA labs, it took the winning team—"All Your Shreds Are Belong to U.S."—nearly 600 man-hours to solve the daunting results of paper shredders. And it wasn't just specially-created computer algorithms that helped the three software engineers beat 9,000 other teams competing in DARPA's paper shredder challenge. The team told New Scientist that recreating DARPA's sample handwritten note took some human jigsaw puzzle solving skills as well.

Still, while the team proved successful at what's often thought of as mission impossible, the programmers are quick to point out consumers shouldn't automatically dismiss the usefulness of paper shredders. Otavio Good, one of the winning team members told New Scientist:

The challenges that DARPA gave us were actually simple compared to if you have a bin full of lots of shredded pieces of paper. Reconstructing these documents was not easy at all. I don't think you have much to worry about with your shredded documents.

Consumer Reports experts have long recommended paper shredders as an invaluable tool for consumers concerned about identity theft. And our recent test of nearly 20 models found all were able to successfully destroy sensitive documents and plastic credit cards. But four models—one each from Black & Decker and GoEcoLife, and two from Staples—topped our Ratings of paper shredders proving to be easy to use and speedy.

If you're shopping for a new shredder to help safely dispose of sensitive documents and materials, check out Consumer Reports Buying guide to paper shredders. We also offer basic safety tips in Shredding 101 as well as guidelines on How long to keep important documents and whether they should be stored at home or at a bank's safe-deposit box.

For more tips on how to protect your identity from data thieves and computer hackers, see Consumer Reports Guide to online security and our advice and Ratings of security software.

DARPA'S Shredder challenge solved [DARPA]
DARPA's shredder challenge [DARPA]
DARPA's Shredder Challenge solved two days early [New Scientist]

Paul Eng

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