Betrayed By A Cell Phone

Cellular, Mobile, Cell Phone, Phones, Generic, RKF AP

The married man's girlfriend sent a text message to his cell phone: His wife was getting suspicious. Perhaps they should cool it for a few days.

"So," she wrote, "I'll talk to u next week."

"You want a break from me? Then fine," he wrote back.

Later, the married man bought a new phone. He sold his old one on eBay, at Internet auction, for $290.

The guys who bought it now know his secret.

The married man had followed the directions in his phone's manual to erase all his information, including lurid exchanges with his lover. But it wasn't enough.

Selling your old phone once you upgrade to a fancier model can be like handing over your diaries. All sorts of sensitive information pile up inside our cell phones, and deleting it may be more difficult than you think.

A popular practice among sellers, resetting the phone, often means sensitive information appears to have been erased. But it can be resurrected using specialized yet inexpensive software found on the Internet.

A company, Trust Digital of McLean, Va., bought 10 different phones on eBay this summer to test phone-security tools it sells for businesses. The phones all were fairly sophisticated models capable of working with corporate e-mail systems.

Curious software experts at Trust Digital resurrected information on nearly all the used phones, including the racy exchanges between guarded lovers.

The other phones contained:

  • One company's plans to win a multimillion-dollar federal transportation contract.
  • E-mails about another firm's $50,000 payment for a software license.
  • Bank accounts and passwords.
  • Details of prescriptions and receipts for one worker's utility payments.

    The recovered information was equal to 27,000 pages — a stack of printouts eight feet high.

    "We found just a mountain of personal and corporate data," said Nick Magliato, Trust Digital's chief executive.



    Magliato discussed protecting personal data on cell phones with co-anchor Hannah Storm on The Early Show Thursday. To see the interview, click here.



    Many of the phones were owned personally by the sellers but crammed with sensitive corporate information, underscoring the blurring of work and home. "They don't come with a warning label that says, 'Be careful.' The data on these phones is very important," Magliato said.

    CBS News technology consultant Larry Magid reports this is a common problem for all sorts of electronics that have a memory. There are cases of people recovering data from computer hard drives found in landfills. Whether with cell phones, computer hard disks or personal digitals assistants, Magid likens just hitting delete to crumpling up a piece of paper and throwing it in a trash can rather than shredding it.


    • Joel Roberts

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