Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Don't Sell Your Old Smartphone

Story first appeared in The Detroit Free Press.

Thinking of selling your smartphone or laptop computer? If you have a BlackBerry or an iPhone, go right ahead.

If you were planning to sell an Android phone or a computer running Windows XP, however, you may want to think again, according to a McAfee identify theft expert.

The expert recently purchased 30 electronic devices from Craigslist -- mostly smartphones and laptops -- to see how effective normal people are at removing personal information from their gadgets before selling them.

After he got the devices home he, did some digging around in the phones and computers himself and then sent the machines to a forensics expert to see what personal data he might glean.

Fifteen devices revealed no information about the previous owner's identity, no matter how thoroughly the experts looked. But as for those other 15 devices -- they coughed up plenty of private data.

The expert was able to get bank account information, Social Security numbers, court documents, credit card account log-ins and a host of other personal data off those devices with not much effort.

And the worst part? Most of those devices had already been "wiped" by their previous owner -- meaning all personal files had been deleted and the user had restored the device's factory settings as per the manufacturer's instructions. The data is still there after following manufacturer protocol.

So, what's the difference between the devices that still reveal personal information after being wiped and those that don't?

It came down to the type of device that was sold and what kind of operating system it was running.

BlackBerrys were totally impenetrable. Resetting to factory settings on a Blackberry totally wiped any and all personal data from the machine. Similarly, he was unable to get data off devices running iOS such as the iPad and the iPhone. Devices running Windows 7 that are wiped by their owners also got his vote of confidence.

As for smartphones running the Android system and computers running Windows XP, it is recommended that people don't sell them at all.

You don't want to sell your identity for $50. Either put the device in storage indefinitely, or put holes in the hard drive to make certain that the information cannot be pulled.

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