Security and Your Electronics

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I’ve mentioned that I have a bit of technical background before. I like electronics, and have been known to take broken items and refurb them to resell, and could easily leverage this into a decent part time business. Kindles, handheld GPSs, Palm pilots, and cell phones are some of the items I’ve been able to resurrect.

We recently had a honeydew melon go bad on us while sitting on the kitchen counter, right next to a charging cell phone. This not only killed the cell phone, but also made it smell like rotting melon. Since the dead phone was my wife’s, both added up to me needing to find a replacement, or somehow get another working phone, FAST.

Having talked about repurposing old android phones before, it is no surprise that I had a spare all set up and waiting to be put into normal service. I say “normal”, since it was being used by our youngest daughter as a game platform, and full-function cell phone, as long as it had a WiFi connection. A simple phone call replaced the wife’s phone with the “spare”, and bought me time to get another “spare” running for the daughter.

What does all of this have to do with security? Well, I purchased a used cell from eBay that powered up and had a valid serial number, but had a broken screen. Water damage normally does not affect screens, so by swapping out the screens, I was able to have a working phone for $20 and parts form the ‘melon-ed’ phone. Not too shabby, considering the same phone new would run me $150. (One of the reasons the wife keeps me around – I’m rather handy!)

So after swapping out the screens, I powered up the no-longer-broken phone purchased from eBay…and found multiple accounts on the phone not only active, but also still logged in. In addition, all of the previous owners text messages were there, as well as all of the pictures and videos he had taken.

Recovered picture on rebuilt phone
Recovered picture on rebuilt phone

I got a pretty good look into the previous owner’s life, including his job at McDonald’s (and the work number), his mom’s phone number, and his plans for expanding his drug use and dealings out of Michigan and into Tennessee…

Scary stuff.

(Yes, I found pictures of drugs in use, in bulk, and wads of cash. I contacted the local authorities, and was told it wasn’t worth the effort, since none of it wasn’t in this state. I tried.)

Recovered photo
Recovered picture on rebuilt phone

So I simply reset the phone back to factory specs, thereby deleting everything on it. And then sat down to write this piece to inform you how dangerous technology can be for mishandling information. YOUR information.

Without covering your tracks properly, it is rather simple to take a digital camera, cell phone, or even a computer, and recover much of the data you thought you had deleted. Without going into how this can happen, let’s just say that it can, and easily.

So what do you do to cover your tracks? The best answer is “don’t make any tracks”, or at least don’t make any that you don’t want to share.Pictures, videos, bank information, and even your particular location at any given time.

Having said that, I’ll also say that even I screw that up from time to time. My phone will “tag” me as being at a certain location on Facebook. A location that is NOT my home, and far enough away to allow anyone to realize that my house is empty.

Other things that can go wrong include, but are not limited to:

  • A car GPS with your home address plugged into it. Easy for the bad guys to find your house, and if they stole your car and keys…they now have a free shopping spree at your place.
  • Geotagged pictures of your kids. This gives a bad guy the location of where the picture was taken. If it was a picture of them at school or a local playground, they just became an easier target.
  • Tax records on an old PC. If you do electronic tax filing from your home (like I do), and throw out your old computer, that information may still be on your hard drive. A tax return contains almost everything you need to have your identity stolen. (Luckily, NOBODY wants to be me!)
  • Cell phones with email on them. Losing a cell phone with a logged in email address is another way to steal someone’s identity. If you received an email from db @, you’d think it was me, right? What if I asked for your address to stop by to drop off some free tomato seeds? I now know where you live…and if I made sure when you’d be home, I’d also know when you wouldn’t be home… Again, scary.
  • Contacts. Do you want a stranger to have your mom’s number? How about addresses to people you care about, and enough information about you that they could pass themselves off as one of your friends…let your imagination run a bit here, very bad things could result from this….

Now having put some fear into you, I simply ask that you THINK about what you are doing with your personal data. Bad people are everywhere, and I cannot shoot them all. There is already a LOT of information about you that is public record. Don’t help out the bad people of this world by being lazy about your electronic data. Talk with your local IT shop, phone store, or police department. They can point you in a direction to become more safe…or at least less vulnerable.

And don’t leave too many tracks, if you can help it!


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