Are you thinking of selling your old Android device and upgrading? Have you considered what will happen to the personal data you stored on the old device? Resetting to “factory settings” may not be as reliable a solution to protecting your data as you think! This article looks at data security on Android devices and how you can make sure you don’t get caught out.
If you’re selling an Android device, you want to remove all your personal data before you hand it over to the new owner. Chances are, you’ve used the “factory reset” option to do this. But what you may not realize is that the reset option doesn’t really protect you. Let’s look at what happens when you reset your device, and how you can protect yourself by securely erasing your information.
The “factory reset” option on any electronic device is designed to set everything back to the original factory settings, so that your device is the same as when you first took it out of its box. Ideally, this means that all your data is removed, along with your personal settings. However, tests on Android devices have shown that this is not the case.
An experiment carried out by Avast, a major digital security company, started with the purchase of 20 Android devices from eBay. Each device was handed to Avast’s technical staff, who tried to recover the data from the devices, using only a standard software recovery tool.
The shocking result was that Avast’s team managed to recover over 4,000 photos, 250 contacts, and 750 emails and messages – and that was without using any of their special technical knowledge! There is sufficient personal information in such content to easily steal the identity of a device’s former owner.
How to Keep Your Data Safe After a Reset
In order to prevent serious problems, you can start by protecting your data while you’re still using your Android device. The first step is to encrypt everything. Modern devices provide extremely strong encryption, so look for your device’s security settings menu, find the encryption option, and switch it on.
Use a strong password or PIN for your encryption – if your device allows it, an alphanumeric password is better than a numeric PIN, since it has more possible permutations.
Once your data is encrypted, it’s much safer. Even if you decide to sell the device, and only use the factory reset option, any information retrieved will be encrypted. Without your password, it will be extremely difficult for the new owner to make any sense of the data they see.
Encryption followed by a factory reset is usually sufficient to deter most nosey buyers. However, if you’re worried about your personal or business data being accessed, you can go a step further, by overwriting existing content.
To do this before handing your device over to the new owner, set up your encryption in the usual way, then do the factory reset. This will wipe most of the data. Next, go into each of the built-in apps you used to store your data, and create dummy records. You can create the same dummy record dozens of times, with minor changes, rather than trying to invent lots of original ideas. Each time you create a record, your device will write the information to storage, using the same space as it did for your real data. Create enough dummy data and there will be no space left from which any of your original, real information can be retrieved. Don’t forget to do another factory reset to wipe the dummy data as well.
For really paranoid users, or companies who handle extremely sensitive data, the wipe-and-create-dummies process can be repeated multiple times, ensuring that the dummy data fills the device’s entire storage capacity each time. Alternatively, you can look into professional data destruction services from companies who will guarantee that little sense can be made of anything retrieved.
It’s easy to trust a buyer, especially when they’re handing you money to go towards the purchase of your next gadget. But be careful: you never know who is buying your old device, and who might have access to the data you leave behind. Make sure you wipe your personal info completely before you sell!