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Risks of Recycling your Smartphone

Nearly everyone you know these days is using a smartphone. It’s your browser, map, bank, shop, camera – your portable everything.

So like you dispose of your bank statements securely, you like to think you’d dispose of your old smartphone safely too. Delete all data and restore to factory settings… right? Wrong.
A study has been carried out to test how secure this method of disposal is, and how much of your data is still retrievable from your supposedly ‘wiped’ phone. The results shown that despite the general belief that restoring the factory settings removes all trace of the previous owner this is far from the case.

The researchers used a variety of Android and iOS devices from a few different manufacturers. Some devices performed well, others not so. Using specialist data retrieving software, information relating to the identity, movements and habits of the user were exposed.

One iPhone didn’t expose any personal data on the user however did still contain some images and app data in its cache which with further research could lead to identifying the previous owner. The most shocking discovery was on another iPhone, where researchers found a map of every wifi network the phone had ever come into contact with, not connected to, but detected and at what times and on what dates. The 68,000 recorded networks enabled them to paint a clear picture and map the user’s previous movements down to the second. Luckily this data was retrieved from an iPhone 3 which doesn’t come with the encryption that newer models now do.

Another factor to bear in mind when recycling/reselling is the removal of any SD cards or any other kind of additional memory. One of the phones SD cards had not been removed, and although wiped the way it was formatted meant all data was easily retrievable. This lead to the exposure of emails, photos and documents which in the wrong hands could be incredibly dangerous as well as valuable.

The research shown that the only real secure way of disposing of your old smartphone is to destroy it. Losing out on a few pounds compared to the potential cost of data and identity theft is a small price to pay.

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