Why Destroying Your Smartphone is Harder Than You Think: From a Digital Forensics Lab

Submerged in salt water for hours? No problem. Run over by a car? That’s ok. Hit with a hammer? You’d be surprised. In all of these situations, what’s keeping your smartphone “alive” is only the size of your fingertip – and as long as it’s intact so is all of your phone’s data, regardless of your phone’s condition.

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On the left, a Samsung Galaxy S3 Android phone is badly corroded (seen as white areas) from being in salt water for more than an hour, yet all of its data was successfully recovered. On the right is a normal Samsung Galaxy S3 (image courtesy of http://thedroidguy.com/).

How is this possible?

It’s possible because all of your phone’s photos, videos, text messages, voicemails, contacts, and more are stored on its memory chip. The memory chip is the 1 cm x 1 cm brain of your smartphone, but you do not have to be a brain surgeon to remove its data. However, you do need specialized tools and software, or perhaps easier, someone who can do it for you.

The process is called chip-off forensics, and there are only a handful of companies that do it. Perhaps if Senator Lindsey Graham had known about chip-off forensics, he would have made some changes to his popular video, How to Destroy Your Cell Phone. So how does the process work?

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Several dunks in a swimming pool rendered this phone unusable and badly corroded, but FlashFixers successfully recovered all of the data using chip-off forensics.

How to Extract Data from Your Memory Chip

In chip-off forensics, a digital forensics technician carefully removes the phone’s memory chip from the circuit board and uses specialized equipment and software to turn its contents into a readable format. FlashFixers data recovery and digital forensics expert Richard Gurecki explains how it works:

“First, we disassemble the phone to expose the logic board. Once we have full access to the logic board, we remove any shields and carefully de-solder the memory chip. Then we place the memory chip in a custom fixture, allowing us to extract the raw data as an image and view it on a lab computer. In order to make sense of the raw image, we use X-Ways Forensics Software and other tools to carve out the user’s photos and app data.”
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This Android HTC One M7 was disassembled to enable access to the memory chip, highlighted above.

The process can take up to several hours depending on the amount of data and degree of corrosion, but FlashFixers has used it to successfully recover data in the least likely scenarios while maintaining more than a 90% success rate.

So when your phone gets dropped in the toilet, slammed in a car door, thrown from a multi-story building, or struck by lightning (ok, maybe not struck by lightning), your data may be unharmed, and more than likely recovered.

If you liked this article, consider sharing it! It might save someone’s phone.

For more information on FlashFixers data recovery services, visit http://flashfixers.com/.

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