No matter who you are or where you come from, privacy should be a treasured commodity that you never surrender willingly. Maintaining the privacy in your home is usually a very straightforward process; you place blinds on your curtains and maybe install a privacy fence in your yard. However, privacy should not end there. Nowadays there are far too many individuals who either overlook or are simply oblivious to just how important the privacy of their electronic data is.
You would be surprised to find out just how many people give away, sell, or simply throw away their old electronic devices without even trying to delete anything beforehand. To put this in a different perspective, absolutely no reasonable person would sell their old car to someone with their passport, bank statements, private photos and family photos in the glove compartment.
Reflex Software has lots of detailed guides looking at spy software for cell phones and PC’s and also a great Online Security Guide – they helped me to compile this information.
Personal Data – Cell Phones, Laptops?
While it is true that there are many people that do at least try to remove all of their personal data from their devices before they sell them, more often than not they are not truly successful. Nowadays, simply pressing delete is not enough to safeguard your privacy. There are numerous types and brands of “recovery software” on the market today (that can be purchased for $100 or less) that can be used to retrieve “deleted” data from smartphones, laptops, and other electronic devices.
However, this does not mean that you have to live in fear of compromising your privacy whenever you decide to sell of give away your old electronic devices. The following guidelines make safeguarding you privacy easy and user-friendly.
Always Backup Everything
The first thing that you should always do is backup anything and everything that you need. At first glance you might think that you have gathered everything that is necessary; however, chances are that you’ve overlooked something. Examples of some things that are often overlooked are; account setting and information, application data and settings, and bookmarks. In the case of a computer, you can always do the comprehensive action and create a complete disk image.
Handheld iOS devices also have a nifty feature that allows it to automatically store backup information on any computer that it is synced to. This is exceptionally convenient, since when you get a new iOS device you can then simply reinstate all of your previous purchases and restore all apps. Whenever your device is connected to iTunes, all you need to do is click on the section marked “Summary”; from here you can configure your backup options and even see when your last backup was performed.
With handheld Android devices there is evidently more variation; however, with Ice Cream Sandwich version 4 and newer OS versions, the option to automatically backup various settings and purchases to a Google Play account is available in the section of your Google Dashboard marked “Android Devices”. For devices that don’t have this option there are apps, such as Titanium Backup, that can perform this action for you.
Always Perform a Secure Format
The average electronic device user is by no means clueless, most of us are well aware of the fact that we should always ensure that our pertinent data is permanently deleted. However, what many people don’t realize is that almost all data that has been “deleted” can potentially be retrieved by utilizing some form of recovery software. All an interested individual would need to do is link the device to their computer and click a few buttons, the recovery software will then extract and consolidate literally everything that it can locate (images, music, documents, etc.). This isn’t some $10, 000 military standard program; any interested person can buy software like this for $100 or less.
These simple to use programs work because when we “delete” data we aren’t actually removing it for our drive; we are actually just designating that specific area as being available for use. The index of the file in question is gone, the actual data (the 1s and 0s that the file is comprised of) is still present.
Fear not, there are various methods of secure deletion that give you the ability to actually safeguard your privacy once more. Regardless of the method or the complexity of said method, the overlying principle behind them is no different. What you are actually doing with any of these methods of secure deletion is actually writing over the section of the disk where the pertinent data was stored. By far, the most rudimentary method of secure deletion is the single pass method; it is called this because it does exactly what it says – passes once over the data just once and writes a sequence of 0s over it.
Now most people (barring the most paranoid folks out there) will tell you that doing a single pass is adequate enough. However, it has been revealed that a few deep recovery scans can identify some of this data. So if you think that you are getting rid of sensitive pieces of data (or you’re just a tad paranoid), then you can perform multiple passes. You could even take a page out of the US Department of Defense’s book, the standard secure deletion protocol that they follow states that they utilize 7 passes – if that is unrecoverable then I don’t know what is.
If this sounds complicated of overly complex to you then you might be wondering if you need a supercomputer or military issue software to achieve secure deletion. The short answer is “no, you don’t.” If you are using OS X then all you have to do is simply locate “Disk Utility”; then select the relevant drive; Erase; Security; and finally Options. If you are using Windows, then you can utilize the command line “diskpart” to effectively format your drive.
Now for Android devices, the aforementioned Windows procedure can be used to securely and effectively clean any SD card you may have. While Android OS does have a built in factory reset option, studies have revealed that it is not all too secure and comprehensive. It is recommended that you go to Settings; Security; Encrypt, and enable encryption settings before performing a factory reset. On the other hand, iOS devices automatically encrypt their data (so right off the bat recovery is already difficult), simply navigate to Settings; General; Reset; Erase all content and settings. This will get rid of all of the data on your device.
Always Try To Re-install An OS
While not a necessary step, this is often view as common courtesy when selling a used device (or giving it away as a gift). Virtually all laptops and PCs are usually bundled with restore CDs that return your device to its factory settings, exactly how it was purchased in the store. Another option that you could take if you can’t locate your restoration CD (or you simply can’t be bothered), is to just specify on your sale that you aren’t providing an operating system. However, some buyers will either overlook this or have absolutely no idea what this actually means; this means that they will most likely return to you irate and even leave you with bad feedback/ratings.
However, one thing that you should never do under any circumstances, is download and/or install and OS that you do not have a valid license for. Both you and the buyer can land in hot water for this.
Always Deauthorise DRM Purchases
Nowadays, a lot of electronic devices and media are associated with DRM (digital rights management). This essentially allows you to allocate you purchases over several devices; iTunes, the most popular example of this, has been cited to allow up to 5 device to share common DRM settings. This means that if you sell your device without deauthorizing you DRM for it, someone can potentially utilize all of your purchases and possibly your information.
However, iTunes can be deauthorized using the following steps. Simply navigate to your account details and then select Manage devices.
Do you know of any more tips or guidelines that should be followed when selling (or giving away) an electronic device? Please, share them with us!