Researchers found a way to pull personal data from old Android phones

Security software firm Avast claims it pulled personal data from phones reset to factory settings. 


Published Jul 9, 2014   Updated May 30, 2021, 11:56 pm CDT

Here’s some terrifying news for anyone who has lost or sold an old Android phone: all the data can potentially be retrieved from it.

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Intimate photos, emails, and text messages are all simple to recover, according to a new report from software security firm Avast. That means if somebody has lost or sold their old Android handset, even if the SIM was removed and it was restored to factory settings, someone could easily claw it all back.

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Acquired by Google in 2005, Android software is used in more than a billion smartphones, including those by Samsung, HTC, and Sony. Avast tested a very small sample, buying 20 random Android handsets from eBay, and then used widely available software, such as the drive-imaging program FTK Imager, to retrieve the information.

On the phones tested, the Avast security team was able to easily retrieve more than 40,000 photos, of which 250 were intimate shots of the phones’ previous owners. They were also able to retrieve text messages, emails, conversations from other chat software, and in one particularly alarming case, a completed loan application.

“Users thought they were doing a clean wipe and factory reinstall,” Avast mobile division president Jude McColgan told CNET. In fact, they were only wiping the data cosmetically, at the “application layer.”

It’s worth noting that Avast had a clear agenda going into the study. It currently offers an Android security app that claims to delete personal information better than the factory reset option. 

H/T CNET | Photo by Pen Waggener (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Jul 9, 2014, 3:16 pm CDT