Cell phone sellers beware

Janet Babin Aug 30, 2006

SCOTT JAGOW: If you conduct a lot of business with your Blackberry or Palm, here’s something you should know. If you upgrade and sell the old phone, you might wanna know what information is still on there. From the Innovations desk at North Carolina Public Radio, Janet Babin reports.

JANET BABIN: It’s considered responsible these days to recycle your cell phone or handheld after upgrading to a new model. Before moving on, most people clear the phone, so it looks completely empty.

But a new study finds that even if you erase your data, that old phone could still contain vital information, maybe even more than your laptop. For the study, Nick Magliato with mobile security firm Trust Digital bought 10 used phones from eBay this summer. They’d been properly wiped of information using what’s called a hard-reset technique.

But Magliato says a simple four-line computer program was enough to recreate the data bases on the phones. He recovered 27,000 pages of information. Things like:

NICK MAGLIATO:“Corporate directories, meaning all of the employees for a given company. We found business proposals and contracts between customers. We found payment schedules.”

He even found e-mails about extramarital hookups. Magliato says people aren’t aware of how easily hackers can access bank account and password numbers from cell phones. Newer Blackberries include step by step wipe programs right on the phone. The Palm Treo website offers instructions about performing a hard reset. Palm’s Joe Fabris says if users want even more security:

JOE FABRIS:“You can do something called a zero-out reset which will then go through and overwrite the memory of the Treo so that there is nothing on there anymore and then it gets reset.”

That method appears to work. After the so called zero-out, even Magliato’s crack team couldn’t find a trace of information on the Palm.

In New York, I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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