Keep a close eye on your old device

2017-03-14 06:04
A local expert has warned cellphone owners to be careful of what they do with old devices. PHOTO: MONIQUE DUVAL

A local expert has warned cellphone owners to be careful of what they do with old devices. PHOTO: MONIQUE DUVAL

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In a digital world where cellphones are the most important electronic device to most people, a local expert has warned that in the wrong hands, it can also be the most dangerous.

Digital forensic investigator and owner of Computer Guyz in Milnerton, Craig Pedersen, took People’s Post on a digital tour last week explaining how cellphones provide the most extensive profile on each of us. With his array of software programmes which he refers to as his “toys”, Pedersen left this journalist gob smacked.

He says cellphones carry more information than people realise and explains while many cellphone owners do a quick reset when they get a new phone, it is often not enough to prevent people from poking about when the cellphone is stolen or resold.

During recent investigations, Pedersen says he was approached by clients who were being blackmailed with information previously stored on cellphones they had already disposed of, ranging from pictures of their children to intimate photographs that could have a negative impact on their reputations.

He says while the clients had reset their phones before giving it away or selling it, the information was still traceable.

“In these cases people had wiped their phones and sold it and the phones then end up at second-hand dealers. The phones have been recovered and the old owner is then basically blackmailed with information found on the phone. The info includes raunchy pictures and in one case of Johannesburg man they sent him all the pictures and details of his children. They wanted R5000 for it to go away.”

Pedersen says in many of the cases, the perpetrators want to make a quick buck by scaring the victim with pictures of their children. However, he says if they find “juicy” pictures, they may prolong the extortion.

So how do they do it? Easy, says Pedersen.

In his demonstration, Pedersen showed People’s Post how a cellphone that had only two pictures in the gallery was transformed into a an extensive data file when it was run on one of his “toys”.

Despite the phone being cleared, he was able to find every picture, every message, every phone call and every location the previous owner had ever been to.

He says while the data on Android phones is the easiest to recover, iPhones proved to be a bit more tricky but not impossible.

Resetting your cellphone, he says, is like pulling the contents page from a book. “All it does is take away where the files are. The files are still there all it takes is some time to go through it all.”

In his line of work, Pedersen investigates various forms of commercial crimes where employees are communicating with syndicates to steal from their employees. By recreating the communication strands between the various roleplayers they can determine who is responsible for what.

In his demonstration, Pedersen revealed the depth of information which can be recovered and how this information also shows communication patterns like who the cellphone user called, who called them, when they received certain messages, whether or not those messages were read, voice recordings, pictures, when pictures were taken, the GPS coordinates of where the picture was taken and even the weather conditions on the day the pictures were taken.

Pedersen’s advice is simple. Be very, very, very careful what you do with unwanted electronics.

He says selling an unwanted cellphone, laptop or tablet can open you up to a world of trouble if that device lands in the hands of “someone in the know”.

“You have to be very careful about giving away an electronic device. Factory resetting any device, especially a cellphone does not necessarily remove the data and anyone who knows how to can get that ­information.”

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