Selling your smartphone or tablet? Don't be lulled into a false sense of security that your data is safely deleted, says Avast Software, a security software company.
The company recently undertook an exercise in which it was able to recover more than 40,000 personal photos and emails from Android OS smartphones that were bought online.
Many smartphone users have found that it's a seller's market for their used phones. Whether through Craig's List, eBay or through resellers such as Gazelle.com, many smartphones can be re-sold for nearly their original purchase price. This makes buying a brand new phone much more financially comfortable.
Sellers must take pains to ensure that all of their personal data and files are thoroughly erased from the phone or tablet prior to it being turned over to a new owner, though. Contacts, photos, financial information, messages, emails and other vital data must all be irretrievably expunged before the device changes hands.
Although most mobile device operating systems include self-wiping abilities, Avast found that those programs do not destroy data, but rather de-link it from the OS so that it can be made inaccessible and then overwritten by new information. Until that happens, though, personal data is still on the device and can be recovered fairly easily by utility software and recovery programs.
Avast picked through 20 used smartphones whose previous owners thought that taking steps to do a factory reset or a deletion protocol made them safe to pass along. Not so. Avast found more than 1,500 pictures of children, over 750 photos of women in less than modest amounts of clothing, 250 pictures that would have put Anthony Wiener to shame, data from 1,000 Google searches, 750 emails and texts, and more, more, more.
"The amount of personal [data] we retrieved from the phones was astounding. We found everything from a filled-out loan form to more than 250 selfies of what appear to be the previous owner's manhood," said Jude McColgan, president of mobile at Avast. "We purchased a variety of Android devices from sellers across the U.S. and used readily available recovery software to dig up personal information that was previously on the phones. The take-away is that even deleted data on your used phone can be recovered unless you completely overwrite it."
Naturally, the company offers a free app, Avast! Anti-Theft, to help Android device owners protect their manhood or womanhood from lustful eyes. It is available from the Google Play store.
Curiously, Avast does not mention any vulnerability of Apple iOS devices. Advice for iOS users comes from another source where, in addition to offering common sense tips such as removing the SIM card, it notes users can trust Apple's hardware encryption scheme, present on iOS 3.0 and above, to convert data to mush when the device resetting protocols are applied correctly.