Deleting Your iPhone Data – For Good!

By | Jun 19, 2009

Selling you old iPhone to offset the cost of a new one? So did I. Twice, as a matter in fact. Before you ship it off, you’ll want to delete all your data on you phone. A simple “Restore” through iTunes isn’t enough. Here’s what I did.

iTunes gives you the option to “Restore” your iPhone to factory default settings, and in so doing, it deletes all your phone’s data. Now, you may think your information is safe, but it’s not. Similar to how formatting a hard drive can still leave retrievable data behind, simply restoring your iPhone can leave behind personal data that can be retrieved by a hacker using a number of utilities circulating around the internet.  As of this post, Apple does not provide a solution to this problem. In fact, hackers have purchased refurbished iPhones from Apple and have been able to retrieve the previous owner’s data using these utilities. 

The only way to truly wipe your iPhone clean is to do a restore along with writing garbage data to your iPhone. Here’s how:

  1. Connect your iPhone to your computer.
  2. Once iTunes launches, select your iPhone in the Devices menu item on the left of the iTunes Window.
  3. On the Summary tab of the main iTunes window, click the Restore button. This will reset your iPhone and delete all data on the phone, BUT, you still need to write garbage to your iPhone in order to truly make the old data unreadable. 
  4. Once restored, go through all of the tabs (Summary, Info, Ringtones, Music, etc) in the main iTunes window, deselect ALL of the syncing options in iTunes (Contacts, Calendars, Notes, Mail Accounts, Music, Videos, Photos, etc.). This will ensure that the personal stuff doesn’t make it back on your iPhone during the next steps.
  5. In the Summary tab, you will have the option of Restoring settings from a backup, or creating a new profile. Select a new profile. Don’t use an existing one from your previous iPhone.
  6. Once this is done, you’re ready to write some garbage to your iPhone. Well, it’s not really garbage, but it’s data that contains no personal info. What you need for garbage data is enough music (MP3’s) or video to fill up your iPhone completely. If you have a 16GB iPhone, you’ll want 16GB of music or video to write to your phone. For music, create a playlist with enough music files to fill your phone to capacity. For video, select enough to completely fill your phone.
  7. Sync your phone to write all of the data from the previous step to your iPhone
  8. Once it’s filled, uncheck the music or videos and sync to remove them from your phone.
  9. You may want to repeat this process a few times to ensure complete data obliteration. Three is generally acceptable as sufficient. If your using music, make a couple of different playlists, each with a mix of enough music to fill your phone. Sync with a different playlist each time. If you’re using videos, select a different set of videos each time you sync. You don’t want to use the same exact data each time, otherwise, once it’s on the phone, it may not get overwritten the next time.
  10. You’re done!

Following these steps should make your iPhone safe from prying hackers to whom you might unwittingly sell your phone.

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