Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, continue to advance and innovate at an astonishing rate. As a result, many of us replace our mobile devices as often as every 18 months.
Unfortunately, too many people simply dispose of their older mobile devices with little thought on just how much personal data their devices have accumulated. In this article, the AgDirect Information Security Team discusses the types of personal information that may be on your mobile device and how you can securely wipe it before disposing of it or returning it. AgDirect is an equipment financing program offered by participating Farm Credit System association partners of AgDirect, LLP.
Your Personal Information
Mobile devices store far more sensitive data than you may realize - most likely even more than your computer does. Typical information stored by a mobile device can include:
- Where you live, work and places you frequently visit
- The contact details for everyone in your address book, including family, friends and coworkers
- Call history, including inbound, outbound and missed calls
- Text and voice messages
- Chat sessions within applications like games and social media
- Location history based on GPS coordinates or cell tower history
- Web browsing history, cookies and cached pages
- Personal photos, videos, audio recordings and email
- Stored passwords and access to personal accounts, such as your online bank or email
- Access to photos, files or information stored in the Cloud
- Any health-related information, including your heart rate, blood pressure or diet
Wiping Your Device
There may be a tremendous amount of sensitive information on your mobile device. Regardless of how you dispose of your mobile device, such as donating it, giving it to another family member, reselling it or even throwing it out, you need to be sure that you first erase all of your sensitive information.
In addition, you need to erase your information if you are returning your mobile device or exchanging it for a new one. If you do not, whoever ends up with your mobile device may be able to easily access it.
Before you begin the wiping process, you most likely need to backup all of your data, including photos, videos or any other information. After you wipe your device, you will not be able to recover any of your data stored on it.
Once you have backed up your data, you then need to securely erase it. Simply deleting files, photos or data is not enough. Data that has been deleted can be easily recovered using free tools found on the Internet. Instead, you want to securely erase all the data on the device, which is called "wiping." This actually overwrites the information, ensuring it cannot be recovered.
The easiest way to do this is to use your device's "factory reset" function. This will return it to the condition it was in when you first bought it. A factory reset will provide the most secure and simplest method for removing data from your mobile device. The factory reset function varies among devices; listed below are the steps for the three most popular devices:
- Apple iOS Devices: Settings | General | Reset | Erase All Content and Settings
- Android Devices: Settings | Privacy | Factory Data Reset
- Windows Phones: Settings | About | Reset Your Phone
If you still have questions about how to do a factory reset, check your owner's manual or the manufacturer's website. Remember that simply deleting your personal data is not enough, as it can be easily recovered.
SIM & External Cards
In addition to the data stored on your device, you also need to consider what to do with your SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card. A SIM card is what a mobile device uses to make a cellular phone or data connection. When you perform a factory reset on your device, the SIM card retains information about your account.
If you are keeping your phone number and moving to a new device, talk to the phone salesperson about transferring your SIM card. If this is not possible (for example, if your new phone uses a different size SIM card), keep your old SIM card and physically shred or destroy it to prevent someone else from reusing it.
Finally, some mobile devices utilize a separate SD (Secure Digital) memory card for additional storage. These storage cards often contain pictures, smart phone applications and other sensitive content. Remember to remove any external storage cards from your mobile device prior to disposal. (For some devices, your SD cards may be hidden in the battery compartment of your device, possibly beneath the battery.)
These cards can often be reused in new mobile devices or as generic storage on your computer with a USB adapter. If reusing your SD card is not possible, then we recommend you physically destroy it, just like your old SIM card.