Personal details found in a fifth of used gadgetsSecond hand gadgets put past owners at risk

30 September 2008

At least one in five second-hand mobile devices still contain sensitive or personal information, says a BT and University of Glamorgan study.

The survey of over 160 used gadgets found a range of information still intact - including salary details, financial company data, bank account details, sensitive business plans, details of board meetings and personal medical details.

Forty-three per cent of gadgets examined contained information from which previous users, their organisation or specific personal details could be identified and misused. 

Personal details

Around 23 per cent of the mobile phones examined still contained sufficient individual information to allow the researchers to identify the phone’s previous owner and their employer.

Discarded Blackberrys contained the most sensitive information despite having encryption security features built in.

In one example, a Blackberry examined had been previously used by the sales director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa of a major Japanese corporation. It was possible to recover the call history, address book, diary and messages from the device.

To safeguard yourself against identity theft, read our Which? guide to beating identity fraud.

Identity theft

Dr Iain Sutherland, who led the research team at the University of Glamorgan, said: 'Many large organisations currently dispose of obsolete hand-held devices by donating them to charities. 

'It was discovered during the course of the research that a number of these charities then pass on a large percentage of these devices to places like China and Nigeria, both of which are regarded as posing a real threat to the security of information.'

For a significant proportion of the devices examined, information had not been effectively removed and as a result, both organisations and individuals were exposed to a range of potential crimes. These organisations had also failed to meet their statutory, regulatory and legal obligations.

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