Formatting removable media (i.e., SD cards, USB sticks) isn’t the same as erasing data. External SD cards make it easy and efficient to transfer data from device to another, but it also increases the chances of sensitive information being leaked, Stiennon said. Why? Emails, contacts, photos, videos and other files can be saved on the SD card instead of the device itself. So if the SD card is lost or stolen, it can be easily transferred to another device. And formatting removable flash media, such as USB sticks and SD cards, doesn’t actually erase the data forever.
“So all of those emails, photos, videos and other sensitive files could very well come back to haunt you,” he said. To securely erase an external SD card so that the data can never resurface – remove the SD card and insert it into a computer, which can correctly detect all of its sectors and run software to securely erase everything.
Another tip: Don’t forget to erase data from a loaner device. If you have trouble with your mobile device, you might be given a temporary “loaner phone” to use until your own phone is fixed. In the meantime, you’ll probably use the loaner phone to save new contacts, photos and videos, as well as send emails from your work email account. But when it’s time to get your own phone back and return the loaner device, make sure all of that data has been permanently erased. And remember, if you have an Android device, a factory reset doesn’t properly erase the data and leaves it exposed and potentially accessible to the next person who uses the loaner device, Stiennon said.
And when you close an account with a business or website, ask for proof, Stiennon advised. When the personal information of over 32 million registered users of dating website Ashley Madison were leaked, the consequences were much more profound. What really stood out in this case was the underlying cause – users had paid for the site’s $20 “Full Delete” program with the understanding that their information would be removed completely from the site. But that didn’t actually happen and users had their data resurface. “The lesson here is to always ask for proof that your data has been permanently erased from all locations where it’s being stored,” he said.
More privacy risks
“We face a world where our lives have become largely digital, and security and privacy breaches are commonplace. We recently surveyed our users and found that 85 percent are more concerned about their online privacy and security today than they were a year ago,” said David Gorodyansky, CEO of Anchor Free.
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