Here is how to wipe your personal data from a mobile device the right way before trading up to a new model.
Trading in or selling your old mobile device? Wipe it the right way to reduce the risk of personal data falling into the wrong hands.
Remember that no method apart from physically destroying the device and its storage is 100 percent foolproof — data may still be recoverable with the right tools.
These tips are for the three main mobile operating systems, but if you have an older phone or an alternate OS, check the manual for full details on how to wipe your device.
Before you start:
- Back up all your data, including contacts
- Remember to remove the SIM card and any external storage such as a microSD card
- Log out of services like email and social media, then clear the data from these apps if you can
- Perform a separate encrypt and wipe of data on the microSD card as well if you don’t plan to use the card in a new device
- Keep the serial number of the phone or tablet on file for your records.
The simplest way to wipe your Android device is to perform a factory reset. However, this often only clears data at the application level, and other information such as SMS and chat messages can be restored with some standard data recovery tools.
Instead, here’s how to effectively wipe data on your Android phone or tablet which begins with encrypting your device first through the Settings menu.
You won’t need any special tools, just a bit more patience than simply pressing the restore option within the settings.
Step one : I recommend encrypting your device before you are getting ready to wipe it. The encryption process will scramble the data on your device and, even if the wipe doesn’t fully delete the data, a special key will be required to unscramble it.
To encrypt your device on stock Android, enter settings, click on Security, and select Encrypt phone. The feature may be located under different options on other devices.
Step two : The next thing you will want to do is perform a factory reset. This can be done on stock Android by selecting Factory data reset in the Backup & reset option in the settings menu. You should be aware that this will erase all of the data on your phone and that you should backup anything you don’t want to lose.
Step three : Following step one and two should be enough for most people, but there’s an extra step you can take to add another layer of protection when erasing your personal data. Try loading fake photos and contacts on your device. Why you ask? We will address that in the next step.
Step four : You should now perform another factory reset, thus erasing the dummy content you loaded onto the device. This will make it even harder for someone to locate your data because it will be buried below the dummy content.
Step five : Once the wipe is complete, remember to also revoke access to the phone from services such as Facebook and Google. To remove devices from your Google account, head to security.google.com/settings/security/activity, click on the model you have wiped, and press Remove next to the Account Access option.
Still feeling a little paranoid? Repeat steps three and four as many times as you like. As I mentioned above, though, for most people simply following steps one and two should be enough. Then again, you could always take a hammer to your phone or toss it in the toilet. You know, if you aren’t interested in selling it.
Apple devices that support iOS 5 or later include hardware encryption when you set a passcode. If you perform a wipe using the method below, the encryption key is also overwritten which makes it very difficult for anyone who wants to recover the data.
Step one: Before starting the reset process, make sure to turn off all services, starting with Find My iPhone. Do this by heading to Settings > iCloud > Find My iPhone. Enter your Apple ID password when prompted.
Step two: Sign out of iCloud completely. Head to Settings > iCloud and find Sign Out at the bottom of the page. For iOS 7 devices, choose Delete Account.
If you delete all your data manually without signing out of iCloud, it will also delete the content from iCloud as well — which is something you definitely don’t want.
Step three: Turn off and sign out of other services including iMessage and Apple ID.
For iMessage, go to Settings > Messages > toggle the iMessage option. For your Apple ID, go to Settings > iTunes & App Store > tap your Apple ID email address and then Sign Out.
For added peace of mind you may also want to sign out individually of any other linked services and apps, such as Facebook or Twitter.
Step four: Start the wipe process. Go to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. Confirm the selection.
Step five: If you have registered your device with Apple by its serial number, remove it from your support profile by logging in with your Apple ID at supportprofile.apple.com
At the time of writing, Windows Phone only offers encryption for business customers. The easiest option to wipe a Windows Phone 8 device is to perform a factory reset and then load dummy data to overwrite traces of the original data.
Step one: Open up Settings from the main apps list. Find About and then tap Reset Your Phone.
Step two: Confirm the action and then wait for the phone to wipe.
Step three: Connect the phone to a PC and open My Computer. If you are connecting via Mac, download the Windows Phone app. Find the phone, which should show up as a removable device, and open it.
Step four: Load dummy data onto the phone by dragging and dropping from another folder. Don’t use your personal photos or documents here, instead try with files that contain no identifiable metadata that could be traced back to you, such as video or music files. Try and fill the phone with as much dummy data as possible.
Step five: Reset the phone again using the same method in step one. Repeat the dummy data load a few more times to ensure all your original data is overwritten.
Step six: Perform a final reset.