InfoSec News & Investigations

Don’t Spread This Holiday Cheer: How to Secure Your Leftover Technology

Don't Spread This Holiday Cheer: How to Secure Your Leftover Technology

With the annual tradition of exchanging gifts fast approaching, plenty of new tech will soon sit beneath the tree, while old devices are donated to thrift shops and other types of secondhand stores. However, security is a big concern here, as the research I conducted earlier in the year on accessing data on secondhand devices showed that many places do not take customer privacy and security seriously.

So, when you get your new gizmos and gadgets, how can you make sure your old tech is properly handled so people like me can’t access your personal data long after you’re done with a device? My gift to you this holiday season is a handful of tips on how to securely remove personal information from any device.

Back up any information you need

User experience plays a big role in consumers’ decision to buy a particular product, and one main desire is having all information shared across devices so it’s available anywhere, anytime. Because of that, backing up data is often an afterthought, but when you’re preparing to securely wipe your devices, you need to make sure you aren’t permanently erasing pictures of your loved ones or getting rid of that document you can’t live without.

Properly backing up your data is the first step when replacing your devices. Make sure you are doing regular backups of all important files and folders. With an Apple device, iCloud storage is a cheap and easy way to make sure all your files are backed up from your Macbook, iPad, and iPhone. More information on backing up your Apple device can be found on Apple’s website. An Android device seamlessly integrates with Google Drive, so you can use that to back up files from your Android tablet or phone.

Resetting and erasing all data

You’ve gotten your iPhone 20: Limited Edition, and you’re ready to throw your old phone in the trash. But, wait! There might be a dumpster diver waiting to steal your phone out of that trash! So, let’s do this thing properly and erase all the data on your old phone.

Apple’s website offers very thorough documentation on securely erasing and deregistering your device before selling it or giving it away. The steps are condensed below:

  1. Sign out of iCloud and the iTunes and App Store
  2. Go to Settings -> General -> Reset -> Erase All Content and Settings (If you’re using Find My iPhone, you will need to enter your Apple ID and password.)
  3. Enter in your device passcode and tap Erase
  4. If you are no longer going to use an Apple device, deregister iMessage

What about the new Android Nexus Galaxy Quantum device you get? Wiping those is a little more nuanced, due to the Android Factory Reset Protection feature (which stops jerks from wiping your device):

  1. Remove the screen lock (Settings -> Security & Location -> Screen Lock -> Set to none)
  2. Remove your Google accounts from the device (Settings -> Accounts -> Google -> Choose Remove Account (If it’s a Samsung device, make sure you remove your Samsung account from the device as well.)
  3. Go to Settings -> Security -> Encrypt Phone to encrypt the device
  4. Factory reset the device by going to Settings -> Backup & Reset -> Factory Data Reset -> Reset Phone

After this, your data will be inaccessible. If you have any removable media in your Android device, you can choose to encrypt that or simply remove it and keep it.

Enjoying your new technology

Don’t let this blog die like your old technology! Be sure to always practice safe security hygiene, including:

  • Backing up your data on a regular basis
  • Using long, complex passwords (or maybe even a password manager, like LastPass)
  • Wiping devices securely before donating them or giving them away

For more information on how to safely dispose of old technology, please read my blog about donated devices.

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