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Android’s factory reset feature is supposed to wipe all the data off your device, ensuring none of your personal data is left. You should be able to sell or dispose of your device in confidence after using it.

Unfortunately, Android may not always wipe everything — and people who are determined enough may be able to recover some of your personal data afterwards. But you can ensure your personal data is completely wiped if you know what you’re doing.

Why Can Data Be Recovered?

When you delete files from any hard drive or flash drive (whether on an Android phone, computer, or elsewhere), the files aren’t actually wiped from the drive. Instead, they’re marked as deleted and hidden. The operating system will write data over those files in the future, but it leaves the deleted data lying around. Wiping the data when you don’t need to would take longer. This doesn’t apply to solid-state drives, which use TRIM Why TRIM is Important to Solid State Hard Drives? [Technology Explained] Why TRIM is Important to Solid State Hard Drives? [Technology Explained] Read More to automatically wipe the bits of files you choose to delete.

You can later use specialized deleted-file-recovery or data forensics tools to scan a drive for bits of deleted files and try to recover them. This is how deleted-file-recovery tools like Recuva Turn Back Time: 4 Tools & Tips To Restore Deleted Files In Windows Turn Back Time: 4 Tools & Tips To Restore Deleted Files In Windows One of Windows' biggest flaws could be your rescue, should you ever accidentally delete an important file: The Windows file system does not actually delete files. Until they are overwritten, deleted files can be restored. Read More work on Windows.

recover deleted files

Android’s “factory reset” feature seems to work similarly. Your device’s system files are restored to their default state, but bits of your photos, emails, and other personal data may be lurking on the device’s internal storage. This data can then be recovered with data forensics tools that examine the device’s internal storage for these bits of deleted files, as Avast! demonstrated.

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If you’re selling or disposing of your phone, someone could examine its internal storage to find emails, photos, texts, and other personal data stored on it.

The Solution: Encrypt Then Wipe

The iOS operating system on Apple iPhones and iPads has to deal with a similar problem. To ensure a user’s data can be quickly and completely wiped when the device is factory reset, it has a trick up its sleeve. All data on the device is encrypted by default using the hardware encryption feature. When you choose to set up encryption How To Encrypt Data on Your Smartphone How To Encrypt Data on Your Smartphone With the Prism-Verizon scandal, what allegedly has been happening is that the United States of America's National Security Agency (NSA) has been data mining. That is, they have been going through the call records of... Read More , the device is protected with your own encryption key. Even if you never set up encryption, the files are stored on the device in encrypted form so any bits of deleted files appear as random gibberish on the device’s storage after it’s reset. The data can’t be recovered.

Android won’t automatically do this for you, but you can do it for yourself. To do this, just encrypt your device’s storage before you perform a factory reset Dealing With System Problems In Android: Safe Mode, Factory Reset & Restoring Backups Dealing With System Problems In Android: Safe Mode, Factory Reset & Restoring Backups Android phones are extremely customizable and they give you the freedom to experiment to your heart’s desire. One inevitable side effect of this freedom, however, is that sometimes your phone encounters a problem or two.... Read More . Open the Settings app, tap Security, and tap Encrypt phone or Encrypt tablet to encrypt your device. This will take an hour or more, depending on how much data your device has on it. Afterwards, open the Settings app, tap Backup & reset, and tap Factory data reset to wipe the device normally. The device will be wiped. Any bits of leftover files will be encrypted, so they’ll appear as random gibberish and their data can’t be recovered.

If your device’s storage is already encrypted, you can just factory reset it.

android-secure-wipe-2

This process takes a bit longer, but it’s pretty easy to remember. Be sure to do this before you get rid of Android smartphones and tablets in the future.

Some websites recommend you attempt to fill up the device’s storage with fake data afterwards, and then encrypt and wipe it again — but this is a bit silly. It shouldn’t be necessary at all — all you need is one sweep of encryption and a wipe.

Other Data-Wiping Tools

Avast! called attention to this because they sell a product that can fix the problem for you. Avast!’s anti-theft app has the ability to perform a “thorough wipe” of an Android device, which is an alternative factory reset that ensures your files can’t be recovered.

We like Avast!’s Android security tools Was Your Android Phone Lost or Stolen? This Is What You Can Do Was Your Android Phone Lost or Stolen? This Is What You Can Do There are many good options for remotely locating your stolen phone, even if you never set anything up before you lost your phone. Read More — their anti-theft is a great product that can even use root access to hide itself in the system partition so it can survive factory resets — but it just isn’t necessary here. Rather than using their anti-theft tool, you can perform a safe reset using the encryption and factory-reset features found in Android itself. You don’t need any additional software for this, whether it’s Avast! or any other anti-theft app.

avast anti-theft thorough wipe

This is a problem with Android, but it can be easily bypassed by encrypting your device’s storage before wiping it. Google will hopefully fix the problem in the future by making Android’s factory reset feature more comprehensive.

Until then, just remember: encrypt and then reset.

Image Credit: Modern smartphone with combination lock padlock via Shutterstock

  1. ClockworkOrange87
    November 26, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Hi

    I forgot to encrypt my data before I did a factory reset. Can I just overwrite the old data with junk data even though I didn't encrypt my phone before I did the factory reset?

  2. Badaboo
    November 13, 2016 at 7:04 am

    According to the article:
    The iOS operating system on Apple iPhones and iPads has to deal with a similar problem. To ensure a user’s data can be quickly and completely wiped when the device is factory reset, it has a trick up its sleeve. All data on the device is encrypted by default using the hardware encryption feature. When you choose to set up encryption, the device is protected with your own encryption key. Even if you never set up encryption, the files are stored on the device in encrypted form so any bits of deleted files appear as random gibberish on the device’s storage after it’s reset. The data can’t be recovered.
    So i have a question. If we set a passcode and then we disable it. The data that we store after disabling the passcode,if we use brute force to decrypt it will we require the disabled passcode or no

  3. h191887
    October 4, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    I deleted my data and encrypted my phone followed by factory reset. can I recover my deleted data?

  4. h191887
    October 4, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    I deleted my data, and encypted my phone followed by factory reset. can I recover my data?

  5. h191887
    October 4, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    I deleted some data then I encrypted my phone followed factory reset. can I recover my deleted data?

  6. Rebecca
    June 13, 2016 at 2:02 am

    I already did the factory reset without encrypting. Can I still encrypt those files? What can I do?

  7. abi
    March 18, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    if any one trying to use recovery in my mobile what message they will get if I already encrypt and reset my android phone.

  8. RAMI
    February 27, 2016 at 5:12 am

    CAN WE MAKE THE SAME STEPS ON PC AS WELL..

    TO PREVENT DELETED FILES FROM RECOVERING ..

  9. RAMI
    February 27, 2016 at 5:09 am

    THANKS

  10. Jay Ell
    November 24, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    what happens if you reset before encryption - encryption wouldn't help in that case, correct? what are the options at that point?

    • Faizan
      December 28, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      Then you can use Avast Anti-theft. It'll help

    • FA
      July 26, 2016 at 4:26 am

      If you encrypt the phone at any given time, the entire back end data gets encrypted as well. Therefore, if it is reset, those data sets would be wiped off completely.

  11. Guillermo
    September 4, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Does it work even if you previously did a factory reset on the phone?

  12. Edmarjohn S
    September 2, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    nice heads-up, especially with the leaked photos news this could really help to be more secure

  13. John Wayne
    September 2, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Any solutions for iOS devices?

    • Mark P
      September 2, 2014 at 10:44 pm

      The iOS operating system on Apple iPhones and iPads has to deal with a similar problem. To ensure a user’s data can be quickly and completely wiped when the device is factory reset, it has a trick up its sleeve. All data on the device is encrypted by default using the hardware encryption feature. When you choose to set up encryption, the device is protected with your own encryption key. Even if you never set up encryption, the files are stored on the device in encrypted form so any bits of deleted files appear as random gibberish on the device’s storage after it’s reset. The data can’t be recovered.

      Taken directly from the article.

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