CLEVELAND, Ohio - We live on our cell phones and our “lives” live inside of them.
Gigabytes’ worth of personal information can be saved and stored inside of a smartphone indefinitely, even when people think it’s been erased.
“People think, 'I log out and I’m done,' but you’re not,” said Stan Smith, assistant professor at the University of Akron, in charge of the High Technology Forensics Lab.
With the help of Smith, Fox 8 learned just how much data is unknowingly left behind.
About 20 different smartphones were purchased from Craigslist and eBay, and then taken to the lab for Smith to analyze.
“We analyze evidence for law enforcement and the private sector,” said Smith. “We treated the phones like a normal case.”
Using special equipment, in a secured environment, the phones were searched for data and metadata.
About half of the phones had some information left behind, and a handful of those had significant data still saved on the phone's hard drive.
“Text messages, contacts, call logs, right down to who dad is and mom,” said Smith.
But probably the most surprising discovery came from a phone purchased on eBay from Florida, that had metadata from a woman in Portland, Oregon.
Fox 8’s Suzanne Stratford contacted the woman and learned that she had never owned the phone and did not know the man.
The woman, who asked only to be called by Shannon, said she keeps all of her old phones and laptops for security reasons.
“It’s scary,” said Shannon. “It doesn't seem real.”
An investigation is now underway to see how her data ended up across the country on that phone.
To safeguard your personal data, Smith recommends routinely changing your passwords on everything from WiFi to the Cloud and all accounts.
And when selling, donating or trading in an old phone, be sure to wipe it clean.
He says start by backing up all of your data.
Next sign out of the cloud and any “find your phone” apps.
Remove any SIM or memory cards and perform a full factory reset.
Since every device is different, he recommends following the manufacturer’s instructions for your phone’s make and model which are usually posted online. Even broken phones can and should be reset.
Finally, double-check to make sure the phone is clean.
It should look the way it looked when you first purchased it and be restored to its original factory settings.
For Apple factory reset help click here.
For Samsung Galaxy factory reset help click here.
For LG factory reset help click here.
Think data forensics sounds interesting? You can find more information about a career in it by clicking here.