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3 On Your Side: Hard To Wipe Smartphones Clean

jim-donovan-web Jim Donovan
Jim Donovan is a 13-time Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter w...
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By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — These days, smartphones can carry as much personal information as what we store on our computers, and much of that data is very sensitive.

McAfee security expert Robert Siciliano recently tested smartphones that people thought they had stripped of personal information before putting them up for sale. He says, “What we found was surprising, people left their entire digital lives on mobile phones including Blackberries, Symbian phones, iPhones and Androids.

On eBay and Craig’s List, Siciliano bought 30 used devices. He says, “We found Social Security numbers, user names, passwords, bank account information, credit card numbers, found lots and lots of porn, found all kinds of files that would allow us to either take over an existing account or open up a new account under that person’s name to steal their identity.”

You’d think it would take a real computer wiz to access information on a cell phone after an owner had pretty much wiped it clean. But experts say that there’s software available that will allow practically anyone to do it.

While most of us know that it is critical to remove the SIM card and the SD card when retiring a phone, it’s not enough. The phone manufacturers will also tell you to go to your settings menu and restore factory settings, but even doing that yielded mixed results for Siciliano.

“While Blackberry did a fantastic job of removing the data, and so did iPhone, Android didn’t. So we found a ton of information on Android phones,” he explains.

In the past, Siciliano has sold his old devices. But after conducting this little experiment, he says that won’t happen again. According to Siciliano, “I will destroy that device before I give my identity away for 50 bucks.”

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