Smartphone users should wipe device before recycling - WKRN News 2

Smartphone users should wipe device before recycling

Posted: Updated: Nov 20, 2013 10:58 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -

Mobile phones are a global commodity. Industry insiders estimate there are nearly seven billion mobile subscriptions worldwide. In recent years, smartphones are taking up a bigger piece of the mobile pie.

"They are part of our culture, and they are a part of who we are," said Louis Moccaldi, Retail District Manager of Verizon Wireless.

Verizon is one of numerous retailers that offer the latest and greatest smartphone technology which provides users with a handheld mini-computer that stores an abundant amount of information through directories, messages, and applications.

But what happens to stored information when the phone is discarded?

"That's one of the least talked about ways that people get your identity," said Lieutenant Roy Brown with the State of Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Special Investigations Division, Identity Crimes Unit.

According to Lt. Brown, Tennessee ranks 20th when it comes to identity theft cases.

"Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes. It's costing citizens billions of dollars across the nation a year," he said.

Smartphones have contributed to the problem, surpassing laptops as the most likely thing to be targeted by thieves or hackers and making mobile phones a soft target.

In the U.S., mobile users upgrade their phones every 22 months on average, allowing phones to be traded, recycled or donated.

Before discarding a phone, mobile providers often recommend doing a factory reset, or "wipe," of the phone.

"When you do a factory reset, it is supposed to wipe all your personal data," said Brian Holley, Assistant Vice President and Chief Security Officer in the IT Division of Middle Tennessee State University.

"It'll leave the operating system. It'll leave the directory structure. But it's supposed to wipe out all your data," he continued to explain. "[It] doesn't always work though."

Holley told Nashville's News 2 information can never truly be "wiped" from a mobile phone. Much like a standard hard drive, electronic data is forever.

"When you delete a file on the hard drive, it doesn't actually delete that data. It just deletes the location of that data," he said. "So the computer operating system no longer knows where to find that. But with the right tools, we can go in and find the data that remains on the hard drive."

Getting the information takes some know-how, but Holley was adamant it can be done.

"They hack cell phones just like the hack computers," Lt. Brown agreed. "You need to make yourself a hard target."

Smartphone users are encouraged to use a passcode, pincode, or thumbprint as a first step to encrypt data on current phones.

For phones being discarded, Moccaldi offered this advice.

"Obviously, making sure the phone is deactivated, first and foremost," he said. "Secondly, backup any kind of old information they may have. Thirdly, they want to make sure they remove any kind of SIM or SD card from the device."

SIM or SD cards provide additional storage for mobile phones. Many times the cards are interchangeable between devices. As added protection, phones with cards should be programmed to store data on the removable storage cards.

Finally, Moccaldi said, "Make sure they do a hard reset on the phone."

To reset an iPhone, go to the Settings icon. Scroll up and select General, and then scroll up and select Reset. Choose Erase All Content and Settings.

On a Droid, go to the Settings icon. Scroll up and select Backup & Reset under the Personal category. Choose Factory data reset to erase all data on the phone.

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