Are There Better Ways to Destroy Smart Phone Data Than With a Hammer?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 by Shira Caldie


First - is it possible to destroy smart phone data with a hammer?

Over the years of recovering data, the engineers at Ontrack have witnessed some pretty rough devices come through.  With so many criminal investigations involving data and electronic devices, we thought we would focus on a question that seems to be of interest lately: can you destroy smart phone data with a hammer?  To summarize, the chances of destroying data vary depending on the device and how ambitious someone gets with a hammer.

For an iOS device, the entire logic board must be mostly functional to acquire data.  However, there are a surprising amount of ways to repair boards to gain access.  Destroying iPhone and iPad storage chips with a hammer, even after wiping data with professional erasure software, would guarantee that the data is impossible to recover. Removing the storage chips from inside the device is the best way to make this happen. To recover data from a storage chip afterward would be challenging.

The same holds true for Android users. However they should encrypt their storage prior to performing the wipe and after that destroying the phone or tablet with a hammer This is usually an option in the Android settings.  In addition to wiping the data, destroying the encryption key would also destroy rendering residual data, if any, and leaving it with no key to decrypt.

So, what does a person have to do to completely destroy their smart phone data?

It has been agreed upon by security experts that the one sure way to be certain that data is fully removed and irrecoverable is to kill the hardware.  While there are several ways to destroy data with the help of software deletion or overwriting.  Hardware destruction, when done the correct way, can render the data unrecoverable.  It all depends on the level of destruction and the device itself.

If you are ambitious enough, destroying the logic board on an iPhone or any iOS device will render the data irrecoverable.  Destroying an eMMC memory chip on an Android will do the same.  The parts of the phone should be broken into smaller pieces, making it more difficult to piece back together and recover.

The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) advises the following when destroying mobile phones and tablets:

  1. Remove memory card, if your device has one.
  2. Remove the SIM card.
  3. Select Master Reset, Wipe Memory, Erase All Content and Settings.
  4. Physically destroy the memory card and SIM card. Memory cards are typically reusable and SIM cards reusable in a phone that has the same carrier.
  5. Ensure the termination of your old account and/or switch to your new device.

For more information on how to effectively destroy data from your mobile device, check out our other blog posts. CC0 License