TELL-TALE Second-hand cell phones are often a goldmine of saleable data
When you sell your mobile phone, you think you have deleted all the data, including obscene files. But curious buyers can resurrect it with a simple tool, say Ketan Tanna and Yatish Suvarna
It is not clear if humans have the privilege of afterlife. But cell phones certainly do. Thousands of people sell their phones believing that they have deleted all the material, but the truth is that this data can be redeemed by any curious bloke with the help of freely available resurrecting software. A misfortune that haunts a 41-year-old man, living in the Lokhandwala suburb of Mumbai, who had taped his lawful sex act with his wife on his phone. The one-minute clip was on the flash card memory of his smart phone. Before he sold it to an Andheri second hand mobile shopkeeper, he had deleted all the files in the flash card. The boy who bought it quickly realised that he had got something more than just the phone. Using a software he brought back to life many of the deleted files and among them was the sex clip which he circulated among his friends, for that is a male ritual.
The CEO of Lotus Consultancy, a manpower agency in Mumbai, Nikhil Choudhary kept less exciting data on his phone, like confidential corporate matters. He sold the phone without deleting all the files to one Tushar Kulkarni who, being somewhat ethical, bro-ught it to the notice of Choudhary.
Improper deletion of files is the source of much activity among a growing number of young boys who are on the prowl for entertainment or saleable information. While it is easy to understand instances when someone has plain forgotten to erase his personal files, an overwhelming majority of the victims have suffered because they did not know about the software that could bring back deleted data.
When you delete a file from your phone, camera or computer, the operating system does not actually remove it from the memory card or the hard disk. It simply removes the registry of these files from what is called the File Allocation Table. This means that while the files do not show on the system or show as deleted, they are very much there. And they exist like a ghost until the memory space that they occupy is overwritten by fresh input. This means that if the space where the old data exists is filled by something new, then the deleted information cannot be redeemed. But if the space has not been overwritten, then the file still exists in the system unless they are removed using a special software called Data Wipe tools.
A potential data thief simply needs a data recovery tool, a PC and lots of free time. Letâ€™s take the case of a memory card obtained from a smart phone. To steal data from this card, the thief simply inserts the card into a card reader and accesses it on his PC. Now the data recovery tool is invoked and a thorough recovery process is initiated. The tool will now check each and every bit of space on the memory card and list all the files that were deleted. The kind of accuracy offered by some tools is plain scary. Most are capable of recovering more than 80% of the deleted data. Once the tool is done with checking the card, all the thief needs to do is right-click the file of his choice and save it to the hard drive.
On the internet, there are hundreds of forums where such stolen clips are posted for distribution. In return, those who upload these files earn reputation points on the sites and gain popularity. Such forums are increasingly becoming popular and the worrying part is that often one does not even know about them.
It is disturbing that while an increasing number of Indians are in a position to afford high-end products, most are not entirely aware of how their personal data could fall in the wrong hands.
The best way to protect data is to enable password access or delete using Data Wipe software before selling it. TNN