A report recently highlighted the sheer amount of data that is now routinely stored on our smartphones and how little heed some of us pay to what happens to our personal information.
Security researchers bought dozens of phones and SIM cards from sites such as eBay and unearthed personal information on almost every one. However, when asked, most of us state that we ensure we wipe our phones before passing them on to a new owner or abandoning an older handset in favour of a faster, shinier new model.
The problem is, it’s not simply a question of deleting all your contacts and text messages. Accounts that are set up for synchronisation and the trail of websites you’ve visited tell their own tale too. Here we look at how to prepare your Android device for retirement or a new owner by ensuring you’ve removed all traces of your own use – and checked for any photos or videos you want to keep.
How to wipe an Android device: Too clever by half
You might think phone hacking and data theft from mobile phones is limited to royalty and celebrities, but unlocking secrets is often as simple as plugging a phone in to a PC and watching what the media manager pops up. Let’s just say we surprised ourselves by accidentally uncovering our own long-forgotten messages and call logs this way.
With media-management tools increasingly being stored on the devices to which they relate, rather than supplied on accompanying CDs, possession of a handset often delivers up most of its secrets. If nothing else, you need to PIN?protect access in case of loss.
Note that there are utilities available on the web that allow both hapless users who have deleted content in error and scammers with design on your details to uncover even deleted SIM card content, but a PIN code (for the SIM rather than the handset) can often deny them access. On an Android device this option is in the Settings, Location & security, Set up SIM card lock menu. You can also set up security governing access to the Secure Digital card or USB storage devices.
You should be aware of just how much information someone could glean just by plugging in a smartphone to a PC. Everything from web addresses to text message conversations and tweets is still logged. Since Motorola supports Device Stage for Windows 7, all that’s needed is a USB cable to access all this data.
Rigorously go through the settings for each aspect of your Android smartphone to be sure that you have everything you need. Here, we’ve downloaded photos one by one and deleted each in turn, just to be sure we’ve got everything we want. However, you can also import photos and other files using the auto-import option in Windows. Note that to drag-and-drop content from your Android device you may first need to enable the handset as a mass storage device. This option should appear when you plug in the smartphone to your PC.
How to wipe an Android device: Unwelcome associations
The other way of deleting what’s on your phone is to use the tools on the device to do the job. Performing a factory reset lets you wipe absolutely everything, but this isn’t always the best option. If you don’t want to lose the apps you’ve bought or have another reason to preserve some of the contents – perhaps a family member is getting the handset and you’re happy for them to use the apps but not to access your linked Facebook account – you need to enter Android’s settings menus.
Click the Settings menu on the Android home screen and, under the Accounts and sync settings menu, scroll down to the Auto-sync options and check for any that have been set up for your social networking accounts. Under the Manage accounts sub-menu you’ll see the current status for your Gmail, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
If you’ve removed the SIM card from the device in preparation for your change to a new handset, any associated accounts should be set to Off. Confusingly, if you click on Privacy, you’ll be taken to the option to remove the account link from your device as well as to initiate a manual synchronisation.
To perform a factory reset, go to the Settings menu and choose SD & phone storage. Click on the option at the bottom labelled Factory data reset and confirm that you’re happy to wipe the device.
How to wipe an Android device: Total Wipeout
The Device Stage allows us to delete our browsing history as well as photos and call records – a check you might not otherwise get round to performing. Click the Confirm option to get rid of all those private messages. Note that if your phone is stolen you may be able to get the operator or manufacturer to put a lock on it, so its contents can’t be read by a stranger. To be sure, plan ahead, and download and install one of the security tools offered on the Android Market.
Some offer remote wiping, while others let you remotely lock up your device or will automatically bar access to someone if they don’t enter the right security credentials. If you routinely push work files to and fro using your Android device, using such a utility should be a priority.
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