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Trade in secondhand BlackBerries booming in Nigeria

Information fences plunder insecure data

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A TV investigation has revealed that secondhand BlackBerries on Nigerian markets are priced according to the data held on them, not the age or the model of a phone.

Jon Godfrey, director of Sims LifeCycle Services, who is advising on a TV investigation into the trade due to screen later this year, said that BlackBerries sell for between $25 to $65 on Lagos markets. Details of the trade come from an agent in Nigeria unaffiliated to Sims' technology recycling business.

Godfrey explained that the smart phones offered for sale come from the US, continental Europe and the UK. "It's unclear as yet whether the phones are either sold, thrown away, lost or stolen," Godfrey explained.

Other type of smartphone are also of potential interest to data thieves, but it is the trade in BlackBerries that seems to be the most active. Data retrieved from smartphones is itraded by crooks in Nigeria.

BlackBerries include technology to remotely wipe devices and come with built-in encryption. But this encryption is often left switched off because it is considered an inconvenience.

"Business critical data is left on unprotected devices," Godfrey explained. "Anyone who gets these devices will obtain a snapshot of someone's life."

"People need to take residual data issues more seriously and have a policy on how to use and dispose of devices," he added.

According to a survey by endpoint security firm Credant Technologies, four in five mobile phone users store information on their phones that might easily be used to steal their identities.

A survey of 600 commuters at London railway stations revealed that 16 per cent kept their bank account details saved on their mobiles, while 24 per cent also saved their PIN numbers and passwords in the same insecure manner. One in 10 (11 per cent) keep social security and inland revenue details on their phone. Two in five fail to take even basic security precautions, such as password protecting their devices.

Most users also use their personal devices for business use, so that potentially sensitive business emails, customer or corporate information might be exposed as a result of lost devices.

Simon Steggles, a director at computer forensics and data recovery firm Disklabs, explained that it is difficult to destroy data on mobile devices because of the way their solid state drives write data. "Certainly the reset that many firms might do doesn't do enough," he said.

Extracting data hidden in the personal and private memory dumps of solid state devices is not a particularly difficult task, according to Steggles, who added that a potential treasure trove of data might potentially be extracted.

"BlackBerries, for example, contain a huge amount of data including everything from web browser history to email," Steggles added.

Nigerian fraudsters may be far from the only ones prepared to pay a premium for data on devices. "Some people are buying memory sticks, that cost £20 when new, for £25 when UK airports auction off unclaimed lost property," Steggles said. ®

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