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Study: Used Cell Phones, PDAs Contain Confidential Data

Most used cell phones and PDAs contain personal information that their former owners neglected to adequately delete, Trust Digital, a McLean, Va. security firm reported Wednesday.

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.

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