How to Clear PII from a Mobile Device
Are you considering selling your old laptop or smartphone? As some of us may be aware, deleting files or data from these mobile devices is not enough. The truth is that some of what we think are "files" in these devices are actually pointers or "shortcuts" to the actual file data, and deleting these pointers from the devices will not delete the actual file data itself. Nowadays, personal computers and mobile devices, such as smartphones have replaced much of our old paper-file method for storing or even doing work. If you are thinking about selling or donating your personal laptop or any of your mobile devices, there are some precautionary steps you may want to take in order to ensure that any personal or sensitive information does not get left behind. Sensitive information left behind on a hard drive, or device memory can be retrieved and pose a serious problem. People who intend to use information for harm will seek out used computers and mobile devices, just to harvest the information.
For computers there are two methods for getting rid of files or information stored in hard drives. These two methods are called reformatting and wiping the hard drive. When you format your computer, the files on the disk are not completely erased; it means the address tables are - where a search will prevent the files from being easily located. Formatting the disk is much more than deleting files, however, it is important to understand that it is not completely secure. Reformatting a drive may still allow your data to be recovered, making you susceptible to data theft.
So, it will all depend on the data you have stored in your device. Think about what you have used your computer for. If you have used your computer for online banking, paying bills online, personal email, storing income tax return forms, and/or other important documents - you may want to consider disk wiping. Disk wiping is the other alternative for computers - it removes software and data from the hard drive. The process of disk wiping overwrites your hard drive. If you are getting rid of your laptop, you may want to consider performing a disk wipe service. If unfamiliar how to perform it, there are technical support groups who may be able to perform this task for you. Here is a link to an excellent short article on this practice: http://enterprisefeatures.com/2012/02/disk-formatting-vs-disk-wiping/
On the other hand, let's talk about smartphones. It is said that if you have a Blackberry or Apple device - that data wiping will completely remove any stored data on your device. Therefore, you shouldn't be worried about the possibility of someone hacking into the operating system and retrieving your data. You may either install wiping software or for these two devices, use the factory settings for data wiping. Now, we know there is a third party missing - the Android operating devices. There has been recently publicized advice that if you are considering getting rid of your Android device, that you are better off keeping it rather than letting it go. Android devices also offer a factory data reset, where all the data on your phone is erased. While the phone is in use, the user can also setup data encryption, where all personal data on the phone is encrypted. In addition, files can be encrypted to your memory card and internal phone storage - you'll find this under the storage encryption option. Regardless of the type of smartphone you use, you need to be aware of all the information it harvests, and make certain that data is not given away when you are done with the phone.
Ultimately, the truth of the matter is your security depends on the type of information or data you have stored in your device. Often times, if we store personal identifying information or sensitive information that can lead to identity theft, we should be very concerned of the possible threat if we haven't taken the measures to appropriately delete or erase the data. Exercise precaution.
"Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft! How to Clear PII from a Mobile Device" was written by Rex Davis. Rex is the Director of Operations at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to the original article.