It is noticeably one of the most important question (and one of my favorites to write about) as many of you might don’t pay much attention to this. Every single Android user knows that whenever their device doesn’t work or whenever they want to sell their devices, they just have to wipe-out the data through a factory reset. That’s it! But it’s not!
There have been many cases till now in which people with lot of personal and sensitive data simply perform a factory reset and assume to have it clear before giving their smartphone to someone or selling them in the market. Things turned out to be quite against them because some of them were absolutely anxious to have their data exposed out. Mostly, girls and women who never wanted to have their pictures exposed on the Internet have faced such worse circumstances. When i saw many of these cases on regular basis, i wondered, why and how is it happening?
Well, i decided to discuss it with my brother-like friend and my mentor RAFAY BALOCH (one of the best security researchers in the world and the founder of RHA blog which is till now, known as the best ethical hacking blog in Pakistan and widely recognized in the world). The answers i received from him amazed and definitely shocked me, entirely. He told me that the simple factory reset never wipe out the data from the smartphone and it remains at the back of the storage from where it can be retrieved by using recovery tools (there are many available out there).
So, he told me that the best solution is to overwrite the data to make less-chances of sensitive/personal data retrieving. Thankfully, i found it really helpful and since then, I’ve been advising people to take care about it. Personally, i don’t recommend them to sell their smartphones if they’ve kept the data in phone-memory instead of their SD Cards. Some people even sell their SD cards in the market by wiping them out. It remains same whether it is an SD card or a internal phone memory. So, I’ve come across some really great solutions as i personally decided to research on it and help everyone to avoid any bad-or-worse circumstances in the future. Let’s take the discussion more descriptively step-by-step!
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First Of All, What Happens When You Simply Do A Factory Reset? Let’s Clear This!
Well, the way it says it all is not like that! Factory Reset never erases your data, but only removes the addresses of the data to make it look like it’s all gone. Means the data remains at the back of the storage, exactly as Rafay Baloch told me about it. Trust me, i personally implemented this thing and it shocked me when the whole data of mine was recovered by a recovery tool that i used. Downloaded it from the Play Store (there are plenty of them). So now, let’s discuss the best and the strongest way to make sure your data is irretrievable.
Android Comes With “Encryption” Option. What’s that?
Google has introduced the ‘Encryption’ option for us to help us encrypt our phone, of course, fully. This option comes as built-in in Android and it will only decrypt when we’ll provide a PIN code or Password to it after turning our phone device on. Isn’t it amazing? Simply it will make it impossible for anyone to retrieve the data as they won’t be having a special key to the door. This is handy!
Now where to find this option properly? Simple:
You can find this option in Settings -> Security -> Encrypt Phone (titled as ‘Encryption’). But keep in mind that many Android Phone brands have this option differently in their device, for example: if you’re a Samsung user, you’ll find this option in Settings -> Lock Screen and Security -> Protect Encrypted Data. Don’t be confused! It is the same feature with no changes. The screenshot below will clear that to you.
Now before encrypting, keep in mind that your phone must be fully charged (or in order to avoid any bad circumstances, put it on charging, let it reach 100% and keep it plugged in while you encrypt your phone data). In this way, you won’t lose any data and the encryption will go successfully. If it stops due to any reason, you might lose some or full of your data. So, just be careful and i must say, go for it!
One more thing to keep in mind is that if your phone is updated with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the encryption is enabled in it by default. You don’t have to follow this step then. But you’ll have to make sure about it! If you aren’t sure, take few moments and check your Android OS by going in to Settings -> About Phone. If you are using Android 5.0 Lollipop, you’ll have to follow the process as written above. No worries!
Google Introduced Factory Reset Protection In Android 5.0 Lollipop. What’s this and how it works?
Well, this new feature adds more security to your Android device. It is especially designed to prevent thieves to steal your device, wipe it out and sell it in the market. It is amazing! When you’ll do a factory reset, as the phone will turn on again, it’ll ask you to put the Google Account username and password that is last used on it. If you don’t know it, sorry, you can’t access it. Now you know how it works!
Maybe this feature is enabled in Android device by default. If it is, how would you disable it if you want to sell your device or give it to someone? Don’t worry! Below are the instructions to disable it:
1. Go to Settings -> Security -> Screen Lock and set it as None. It might differ as for Samsung, go to Settings -> Security and Lock Screen -> Screen Lock Type and set it as None. Make sure you’re doing it right!
2. Secondly, go to Settings -> Accounts -> Google and Remove Your Account. The ‘Remove Your Account’ option might show by tapping on extra options labeled as ‘More’ or 3 vertical dots at the top right corner, depending on your device. If you are using more than one Google Account, make sure you delete all of them.
Note: For your Samsung device, if you’ve made a Samsung Account, be sure to delete it too. You can do this by going into Settings -> Lock Screen and Security -> Find My Mobile. Access it by giving your password and then Remove The Account.
Now once you’re done with the above steps. You can now proceed to do the Factory Reset.
If you don’t know, then follow the steps below to Factory Reset your phone.
First of all, if you want to back up anything, do it now and then we’ll move to the resetting process. If you won’t backup, keep in mind that the whole data will be wiped out because we’ve encrypted it first to make it irretrievable and you know everything about it.
Now if you’re all set, let’s do a factory reset. Go to Settings -> Backup and Reset -> Factory Data Reset and now you’ll be seeing things on your screen that it’ll be telling you to be removed. Below, you’ll see a Reset Phone or Reset Device button, tap on it and BOOM!
Your smartphone is all set, means safe to sell now. That’s because we’ve encrypted the data first and it’s all gone with the factory reset, and it can’t be retrieved as we had the key. But still if you’re having any doubts, let’s go through another process.
Overwrite Data! Here comes the point that Rafay told me about. Let’s do this now!
Now to make it purely unquestionable, yes, you can overwrite the encrypted data and for that, using junk data is really an exceptional idea. Now by junk – i mean to say dummy data or absolutely useless data to put until your data storage gets full. Large videos are the best to do it or as you feel comfortable with just be sure it’s junk! Now perform another factory reset and yeah! You’ve done it! You’ve made it impossible for anyone to retrieve the data. You’re all set – safe and secured to giveaway or just to sell-out your device without any sort of anxiety.
Even i have heard about an app called SecureErase. You may also use it to do it. As you feel feasible with anyways. Just make sure things go as best as possible.
Always make sure to be protected and secured when you are dealing with sensitive and very confidential stuff on your smartphone. Even the cases i saw in which the pictures and personal data was exposed made me speechless and terrified. As the technology is becoming stronger – the pros and cons are also coming with equal quantities. Some of them take good advantage of it and some of them take advantage of it to do bad with others and that turns out to be the biggest disadvantage for the victim. So, it’s just about being aware of everything to be careful.
That’s it, friends!
I am thankful to RAFAY BALOCH for his discussion on this topic with me and in many of his interviews as well. Finally i got myself all prepared to do research on it and bring the best for you. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article.
I’ll be preparing a similar article for iOS users real soon. Let me research on it!
Give us a feedback in the comment box below. Share your experiences with us and even if you have a more powerful technique than this then even share it with us. We’ll be glad to hear from you, dears.