Thursday, July 19, 2012

How To Protect Your Digital Identity With A Real Hammer

The following is a guest post by Alex Lamman. Alex is a 25 years old software engineer, snowboarder and just a loving father from Germany. He is Internet security addict and helps to run Privacy PC – a website which guides you through security and privacy news, tips and antimalware software reviews.

Do you buy and sell things on Craigslist just like anybody else? Digital devices can spill your secrets even if those devices have been wiped clean. Are you thinking of selling it, recycling it or giving it away? Maybe you should just destroy it. Here you will learn what to do and what not to do with your used gadgets.

Via Craigslist, members of McAfee security team acquired secondhand gadgets from owners who thought they were careful. They bought 30 devices. They bought laptops, desktops, netbooks, notebooks, iPads, iPhones, BlackBerry and Android mobile phones. They drove all over the Massachusetts buying devices in people’s living rooms, cafes and business offices. They were buying them for 20, 50, 100 dollars. All the devices were then taken to forensics experts who actually used software tools that are available on the Internet.

Experts found tremendous amounts of data. They found people’s entire digital lives. Experts found social security numbers, credit card numbers, family photos, family videos. They found court documents, child support documents, and a lot of porn and pirated videos, detailed Internet search history. They also found viruses, if someone had used those infected devices, his personal info could have been compromised.

They found enough data to steal identities by opening up new accounts, taking over existing accounts or even enough information to damage reputation. One of the hard drives that came from a business laptop had all kinds of business documents, employee records. This finding would be considered a data breach with the amount of information that was on it.

Of the 30 devices they bought, they were able to retrieve data on over half of them. In most cases people selling the device think they erased all data by following the manufacture’s instructions, but for someone who knows computers it is not hard to retrieve data.

Most people are moving to Windows 7 operating system and eventually to Windows 8, which means that there are a lot of Windows XP machines both desktops and laptops that are available online as secondhand on Craigslist and eBay. As much as half of them probably still have your information and viruses. There is a problem with XP operating system, when you go and reinstall the operating system, there are too many options, which essentially leave partitions on the drive that still have your data.

As to mobiles, both iPhone and BlackBerry did a good job of removing the information when the owner resets the device. If you go to your general and then options menus, you can reset the device back to factory. Actually BlackBerry is the best to delete the information. These manufactures’ procedures for cleaning your phone work very food, but if you are good enough you can hack into those too.

Android devices were the worst. People are buying new Android phones and the old ones still have their information on them and that is really a big problem. Even if someone did a factory reset on an Android, experts found massive amounts of information. On 3 out of the 4 Android devices, security guys found just about everything that was on the device even after a factory reset.

The problem with a lot of the digital devices that we have today is when you reset the operating system, when you reinstall or reformat it or reset to factory settings, it doesn’t often do the job which it says it does. You are leaving a lot of bread crumbs that can be all collected together, which allows the bad guy to basically steal your identity.

The forensics people who understand how to extract this data and even the non-professionals, even the guys just on the Web who learned how to use this software, they are going to find their way around and find your information with that software which costs just 50 dollars.

If you have a Windows XP machine or old Android and you want to sell it, you might need to reconsider that. You are going to get 50 – 70 dollars for it, but you may be selling your identity for that price too. It’s not worth risking your identity.

Instead of selling it, and if it is still good, give it to someone you trust like your kids or your spouse. Don’t donate your phones to charity. Maybe it’s better to consider recycling the actual device, but with XP machines, always keep the hard drive and destroy the hard drive. Take it and put it in a vice and drill holes through it, then smash it with a hammer and later put in a bucket of salty water for a year. You can be a securely thinking individual and organize a smash party at home or office.

If you are buying second hand devices you want to install antivirus, antispyware, antiphishing as well because usually old XP machines contain viruses. Equipment manufactures and software developers need to do a better job so that people could effectively delete data stored on their devices.

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