Smartphones and tablets have revolutionized the way we interact with the world. The old yellow pages phone books are nowhere to be found. Your address book now lives in your phone. Even the ways we shop and bank have changed. That small computer in your pocket now holds almost all the important information about your life. This means that unless you completely erase that information before upgrading to the newest model, someone could gain access to extremely sensitive information about you. The surprising news is that a factory reset might not be enough to erase your data.
Why Erased Is Not Secure
Take a piece of clean, white, paper and write your address on it in pencil. Now erase your address. This is essentially what happens when you do a factory reset of your smartphone or tablet. We’ve all seen mysteries where the detective takes a piece of paper that had been erased and by rubbing a pencil over it they are able to read what had been written on it before. If you hold that piece of paper up to the light you can probably even read the address. It’s easy for someone to access some software that can restore files and data that have been erased with a factory reset. The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to ensure your data is truly gone from your old device.
Encryption Is the Ultimate Eraser
Before trying a factory reset, encrypt the data on your device. Without the keys to the encryption, it is virtually impossible to reconstruct your information. The information is still there, as it is with any factory reset, but all that can be retrieved is the encrypted data. This protects you from having your sensitive information retrieved by someone who has your device after you.
On most devices, encryption is a simple matter. If you own an Apple device running iOS 8.0 or later, your device is automatically encrypted, and Apple does not possess an encryption key to open it. If you perform a factory reset on an Apple device, no one who doesn’t possess your passcode can restore the data. For Android devices running Marshmallow or later, your information should be encrypted by default.
If you own a slightly older Android device, you can check if your phone is encrypted or encrypts your information. You can do this by going to the setting menu and clicking on the security screen. This can be under different tabs depending on your device. It may also be labeled something like ‘Lock screen and security.’
Once you’ve found the right screen click on security and find the ‘Encrypt device’ option. Again, depending on your device this may be labeled ‘Encrypt’, ‘Encryption’, or something similar.
The encryption screen warns you that encryption is a long process. You’ll want to wait for a time you won’t need the phone for at least an hour, and you will probably want to have your device plugged in while the encryption is happening. Once encrypted, the information on your device is secured.
Sign Out of All Accounts
Whether you use and Apple or Android device, signing out of your accounts is a good idea. This prepares the smartphone or tablet for a factory reset and transfer to a new owner.
For iOS devices, sign out of the App store, iMessage, and iCloud. Follow these steps:
- Before signing out, be sure to unpair any devices you have connected such as your Apple Watch
- From Settings, find ‘Messages’ and turn off the iMessage option
- Find the ‘iTunes & App Store’ setting, click on your Apple ID email and then click ‘Sign Out’
- Finally, in Settings, tap ‘iCloud’ at the bottom of the screen find ‘Sign Out’ or find your name and then tap ‘Sign Out. Your device is now ready to wipe and reset.
For Android devices, if you have an older device, you may be able to skip directly to doing a factory reset at this point. On newer devices, Android has factory reset protection turned on by default which will prevent a new owner from signing into a device if you do not properly deactivate your accounts first.
First deactivate your screen lock. In your settings, you will need to find the lock screen settings. This can be under a few different labels depending on your device, but it is generally labeled ‘Lock Screen Security’, ‘Lock Screen’, ‘Lock screen and security’, or something similar.
Choose ‘None’ to deactivate your lock screen.
Next, log out of your Google account on the device. From the Settings menu, “Users and Accounts’, or ‘Accounts’.
Tap on ‘Accounts’ to bring up the different accounts you have logged into the device. You might want to log out of each of them individually, but generally logging out of Google is enough to ensure your protection.
Find ‘Google’ and then click on each Gmail account you have logged in on on this device to remove it. Click on ‘More’ in the upper right-hand corner of the screen and select ‘Remove account’ to log out.
Ready for Reset
Once you’ve taken these steps, you can now perform a factory reset with confidence your data is secure.
On your iOS device, from the settings menu, click on ‘General’, select ‘Reset’, and finally select ‘Erase All Content and Settings.’
You have the option of backing up your data to iCloud before erasing. Choose either to back up your data or ‘Erase Now.’ Your data is now erased off your device.
On an Android device, in your settings menu, look for “Backup & Reset”. This can often, but not always, be found in the system menu of your settings.
Select ‘Backup and reset’ to get to the reset screen and select the option to reset your device.
First, make sure to turn off the ‘Automatic restore’ option. This option brings back your stored settings and data when you reset the device. Click the slider to turn this off.
Finally, select ‘Factory data reset’ to reset your device. Android brings up a list of accounts you’re still signed into on your device – if any. Choose ‘Reset Device’ at the bottom of the screen to confirm your choice to reset.
By following these simple steps, you can ensure your information remains secure even when passing off your device to a new owner.