Local 2 investigates smartphone security

By Amy Davis - Reporter/Consumer Expert

HOUSTON - Local 2 investigates the new way you could be giving away your most personal information.

With upgrades and new technology available almost every day, you may be tempted to sell your old smartphone or computer when you get a new one. Before you do, you'll want to know what you may be giving away by selling them.

These days, our smartphones operate more like computers than telephones.  Local 2 Investigates polled people at random in downtown Houston to find out what type of business they're doing on their phones. Some said they store their personal passwords, banking information and business emails on their phones. One woman said she uses it as sort of a "life organizer," but she admitted it would be a life-changer if her personal information wound up in the wrong hands.

McAfee identity theft expert Robert Siciliano said that could easily happen because so many people sell or recycle their old electronic devices when they upgrade to the latest model.

He discovered that even when people believe they've done everything possible to clear their personal data off of an old phone, it can still exist. He bought 30 used computers, laptops, netbooks, tablets and almost every kind of smartphone on Craigslist. The sellers thought the computers and phones were reset to make sure all their information was deleted, but Siciliano found tax files, passwords, family photos and bank information on windows computers and laptops.  Three out of every four Android phones he checked contained personal information.

"The Android operating system simply fails to reset the data when you do a factory reset," explained Siciliano. "Their software, the operating system itself, does not do an effective job of removing the data."

It's why Siciliano said not only would he never sell or recycle an Android, he recommends just smashing and destroying your old Android phone to make sure your information won't end up in the wrong hands.

"Your identity isn't worth the $50 you might get for that device," he said.

There is good news on the cellphone front. He said iPhones, iPads, Blackberries and Macs did the best job in erasing your information.

Siciliano also said almost all of the devices were loaded with viruses. If you do buy one used, make sure you install antivirus software to get rid of them. He said his advice for getting rid of old phones and computers is to sell or give them to a trusted friend who won't sell them to someone else.

Google makes Android phones. So far, the company has not commented on Siciliano's findings. Microsoft said it made considerable security and privacy improvements that protect user data for its new Windows 7 operating system.

If you have a news tip or question for KPRC Local 2 Investigates, drop them an e-mail or call their tipline at (713) 223-TIPS (8477). Copyright 2012 by Click2Houston.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.