NH1 News Investigates Photos are Forever: Expert says cell pictures never really get deleted
“So, anything that’s got the right tag on it, we can go out and recover that picture. So even though it’s been deleted, it’s still probably sitting on the hard drive.”
That’s Peter LaMonica, Program Director for Manchester Community College’s new Cyber Security Investigations program.
His warning is about the security of your cellphone pictures and it may have you thinking twice about taking so many personal ones with your smartphone camera.
Turns out what you delete, may not be as gone as you think.
“Even years later, somebody can come back and find that image and use that information,” says LaMonica.
Celine: Is there a way to actually delete these pictures and have them gone permanently? What would be your advice?
LaMonica: Off a cellphone? That would be a tough one. I don’t know that you can actually do that on a cell phone.”
LaMonica says he’s teaching his students to recover this content from phones, with equipment like –but not limited to –this reader from the Israeli mobile forensics firm Cellebrite.
“It would read contact information, it would look at photographs, telephone calls that were made, text messages that went back and forth. Emails, anything that is stored on the phone.”
That would be a concern if your phone was stolen or seized in an investigation and you don’t have one of the newest phones with the latest security measures.
However, LaMonica says an easier way for someone, like a hacker, to get to your pictures is if you save them in the cloud or you back them up to other devices like a tablet or laptop.
“There’s still a way because every time your computer brings up a picture, say on the screen, you bring up an image on the screen, it saves that picture on the computer before it displays it to you. So there’s a temporary file created with that in it. Even if you go and delete all of those pictures, it’s still probably sitting there on the hard drive somewhere. Maybe not as a file, but it’s still sitting there,” says LaMonica.
So, what are your options? It really depends on who you ask. The experts are not all on the same page with this. If you have an iPhone use a strong unlock code – 8 digits or more – and keep your software up to date. If the phone is in your possession—don’t share the pictures or back them up to the cloud. If you want to get a new phone, restore the old one to factory settings or destroy it.