Written on Thursday, August 31, 2006 by Gemini
Even though you may follow all the directions in the cell phone’s manual to erase all information, including lurid exchanges with your lover, it isn’t enough. Selling or giving away your old phone once you upgrade to a fancier model can be like handing over your diaries. All sorts of sensitive information pile up inside our mobile phones, and deleting it may be more difficult than you think.
A popular practice among sellers, resetting the phone, often means sensitive information appears to have been erased. But it can be resurrected using specialised yet inexpensive software found on the net. Executives at Trust Digital, a Virginia company, Trust Digital, reviewed the information extracted from 10 used phones bought from eBay. The company resurrected information on nearly every used phone, including the lovers’ exchanges, one firm’s plans to win a multi-million-dollar federal contract, and bank accounts and passwords. The recovered information was equal to 27,000 pages.
“The tools are out there” for hackers and thieves to rummage through deleted data on used phones, Trust Digital’s chief technology officer, Norm Laudermilch, said. “It definitely does not take a PhD.” Many of the phones were owned personally by the sellers but crammed with sensitive corporate information, underscoring the blurring of work and home. “They don’t come with a warning label that says, ‘Be careful’. The data on these phones is very important,” Magliato said.
“Most people toss their phones after they’re done; a lot of them give their old phones to family members or friends,” said Miro Kazakoff, a researcher at Compete Inc of Boston who follows mobile phone sales and trends. Consumers in the US upgrade their mobile phones on average about every 18 months.
The 10 popular phone models from leading manufacturers that Trust Digital checked out had stored information on “flash” memory chips. Flash memory is inexpensive and durable. But it is slow to erase information in ways that make it impossible to recover. So manufacturers compensate with methods that erase data less completely but don’t make a phone seem sluggish. Phone manufacturers usually provide instructions for safely deleting a customer’s information, but it’s not always convenient or easy to find.
Howard Schmidt, former cybersecurity adviser for US President George W Bush, said, “People are just not aware how much they’re exposing themselves,” Schmidt said. “This is more than something you pick up and talk on. This is your identity. There are people really looking to exploit this.”
People usually reset the cell phone, which often means sensitive information appears to have been erased. But it can be resurrected using specialised yet inexpensive software Manufacturers usually provide instructions for safely deleting a customer’s information, but it’s not always convenient or easy to find.