Last year, a Which? investigation found that 31% of resold smartphone models from three of the major used and refurbished handset stores are no longer receiving security updates. Phone manufacturers only schedule data updates for a certain period after the release of a model, so those looking for an additional bargain in older devices could be putting themselves at risk.
As well as security issues, second-hand smartphones that haven’t been wiped by their previous user can still contain sensitive data. Without following the proper steps, anybody considering selling their old phone on eBay or another marketplace could be exposed to fraud in numerous ways.
How to Ensure Security When Buying a Phone
Phone manufacturers often release information on their security updates, so checking your chosen model is still receiving these updates is essential to remain secure once you start using your new phone. The length of time phones are updated varies by manufacturer and by model.
For example, Apple offers security updates for several years and the next model to stop receiving these updates is the iPhone 6, released in 2015, which will no longer be updated at the end of 2021. However, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, stopped being updated just 28 months after its release in 2017.
Apple also links its security updates with its general software updates, meaning if your device is no longer being updated, your apps and other functions will not work as well and can be exploited by hackers in other ways. For this reason, it’s best to shop around for more recent models.
For those who have chosen an old model, it’s important to take extra care when using the device and navigating online. Pay attention to app permissions, as some apps may take advantage of gaps in the phone’s security perimeter that can expose your personal data. Using smartphone security or antivirus software will also help prevent unauthorised access to your device or your data when using an older phone.
Consider Your Data before Selling Your Smartphone
Before selling a smartphone, the best course of action to prevent your data from being stolen or abused is to perform a complete factory reset of the device. Once you’ve saved everything you want to keep on an external backup, like your computer or the cloud, perform a factory reset by following the guidelines of your phone’s manufacturer. Some devices may ask if you want to keep personal data while performing the factory reset, make sure you don’t select this option as this will not fully clear the device.
Things to pay attention to are any apps where passwords are saved to your phone and apps that send SMS confirmations for security purposes. Before getting rid of your old device, make sure texts from online banking or other sites can be received on your new phone and be sure to save passwords somewhere secure to avoid being locked out once your phone has been reset.
The Used and Refurbished Phone Market
Used and refurbished smartphones make up only 14% of all smartphone sales, but their presence is essential in reducing the environmental impact of the smartphone industry by prolonging the life of every device. With numerous precious metals used in smartphones that will soon be too difficult to mine, manufacturers need to do more to keep old devices secure.
By arbitrarily limiting the length of time devices receive security updates, manufacturers are forcibly cutting the life of most devices short, contributing to the major e-waste problem faced by modern society.
In addition to manufacturers, second-hand phone vendors need to make their customers aware before they buy unsecured devices. Following the Which? survey, some second-hand retailers added information about the security strength of old devices, which helps inform consumers’ decisions and raise awareness of how they can secure these devices if they choose to still purchase them.
Overall, second-hand and refurbished smartphones are an essential facet of the smartphone industry and more needs to be done to improve the quality and security of these devices to combat the rapidly growing e-waste problem, as well as provide more opportunities for consumers to get their hands on smartphones at any price point.