Trust Digital examined a small sample of used phones and personal data assistants purchased from sellers on the eBay online auction site, and recovered data from 9 out of 10 of the devices.
"The file system on your cell phone or PDA is just like the one on your PC's hard drive," said Norm Laudermilch, the chief technology officer at Trust who restored the data. "If you delete a file, you're not really overwriting the data. All it's doing is changing the index of the file system, or the file's pointers."
That makes salvaging data from discarded devices a snap, said Laudermilch. "It's really very simple. There are free tools on the Internet, as well as commercial tools that can resurrect data. We wrote our own little tool, about 30 lines of code."
Among the information that Laudermilch restored were credit card account numbers, "very sensitive" chat logs, enterprise e-mails about contract negotiations, and computer passwords.