Data Security

What does factory reset do: a complete guide

Find out what a factory reset does,how it can help you solve common problems, and how to perform one. Read now!

June 28, 2023

A factory reset restores a computer, smartphone, etc., back to the state it was in when it left the factory. This includes deleting all the data, apps, and settings the user changed on the device. The next person to use it should have the same experience as when it was first unboxed.

Depending on the electrical gadget, factory resets can be accomplished in a variety of methods. In certain cases, this can be accomplished by accessing the device's Service Menu. Other gadgets may need complete software reinstallation. The following sections will explain the importance of a factory reset and detail how to restore factory settings to various common devices.

What is a factory reset?

A factory reset is a process that clears all data and settings from a device and returns it to its default settings, meaning that the device is reset to the point where it is in the same state it was in when it was first taken out of the box.

What does a factory reset do?

Factory reset means that you restore a device to its original system state by erasing all of the information stored on the device in an attempt to restore the device's software to its original manufacturer settings.

It helps users regain control of their devices and troubleshoot issues quickly by permanently deleting all personal information, including contacts, messages, images, and apps.

Factory resetting the device to its original state helps solve any software or configuration issues, allowing it to function normally again. This can include fixing issues with software updates, fixing errors in the operating system, and improving overall performance.

Does factory reset delete everything?

Doing a factory reset will delete nearly everything on the device, including:

  • Personal data: This includes documents, photos, videos, music, and other types of personal files.
  • Settings: Any settings you have configured on the device, such as network settings, app settings, system settings, etc., will be reset to their defaults.
  • Apps: Installed applications and their data will be erased.
  • Accounts: All of the accounts logged in on the device (like Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc.) will be removed.

However, it's important to note that a factory reset does not erase the firmware/software updates made to the device. The device will still run the latest OS update after the factory reset.

Also, if the device has a memory card or other external storage, the factory reset may not erase data stored there, depending on the device's settings and the user's actions.

Some types of data might not be fully erased during a factory reset, and could theoretically be recovered using specialized software. This is particularly a concern for highly sensitive data. To completely eliminate data, the device's storage would need to be securely wiped or physically destroyed.

Does factory reset remove viruses?

A factory reset can be an effective way to remove viruses from a device as it wipes out all data and settings, including any viruses or malware that may be present on the device. 

However, it's crucial to remember that not all malware and viruses can be eliminated with a factory reset. Furthermore, even after a device has been reset to factory settings, some viruses can persist, especially if they have been well embedded into the firmware or operating system; seeking professional assistance in such cases is necessary.

Reasons to factory reset your device

A factory reset should be a user’s last resort because it completely removes all applications, data, etc., from the device. If lost or stolen, a remote lock and wipe tool such as Apple Lock Factory Reset to lock a device remotely may be a less drastic step, followed by a factory reset if needed.

However, some scenarios exist where a factory reset may be the right choice. These include the following.

Preparing a device to be lent to an employee

For an organization wanting to maximize the impact of its IT budget, loaner devices are a logical choice. Allowing employees to check out devices as needed prevents waste if they are only using them sporadically, if at all.

However, shared corporate devices create the potential for employees to have unnecessary and unauthorized access to corporate data stored on them. Performing a factory reset of devices between owners helps to prevent these accidental data leaks.

Viruses, malware, and other threats

Some types of malware are designed to be persistent and difficult to remove from a device. Simply deleting the malware might not be enough if it has made deep-level changes to the system’s settings.

Since a factory reset restores a device to its original state, it can be a solution to these persistent malware variants. Deleting all files and restoring original settings removes the malware and its various persistence mechanisms.

You want to sell your device

Information accidentally left on sold or discarded devices is a common source of data leaks. Some cyber threat actors will buy them up secondhand to collect sensitive information that was accidentally left on them.

Performing a factory restore before selling or discarding a device is a good security practice. Wiping data and applications from any gadget helps to protect against data loss and ensures that the next user doesn’t have access to corporate applications or systems.

You are going to install some ROM or modify the system

Smartphones commonly have built-in limitations on what their owners can do. For example, the only way to achieve root-level permissions on these phones is to root/jailbreak the device by exploiting a vulnerability in the operating system.

To achieve greater configurability and control, some smartphone users will install custom ROMs. When doing so, resetting the device to factory state is a necessary first step.

You are having data-related issues with your device

Applications, configuration settings, and other factors that may cause a device to become unusable. If it is running slowly or freezing, the logical first step is to attempt to identify and fix the problem application or setting.

However, a  factory reset may be the best option if this does not address the issue. Since this removes all applications and data from the device and resets its settings to factory state, it can likely fix any software-related issues with a malfunctioning device.

How to do a factory reset

The factory reset process differs based on a device's type and operating system. The easy way to perform a factory reset is with data protection tools that offer this feature. If no such tools are installed, here is how to perform a factory reset on Android, iPhone, macOS, and Windows.

Factory reset for Android devices 

Different Android devices and OS versions have different processes for performing a factory reset. The Reset option is commonly found in the Settings app under General Management but can also be found by searching the Settings app for the word “Reset.”

Within the Reset window, there should be an option for Factory data reset. Clicking on this option and following the prompts will result in removing all user-installed apps and data from the device.

Factory reset for iPhone

An iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch can be factory restored via the following steps:

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Select General
  3. Click on Transfer or Reset iPhone
  4. Click Reset
  5. Choose “Erase All Content and Settings”
  6. If asked, provide an Apple ID password or passcode

An iPhone can also be factory reset by connecting it to a Mac computer. After connecting the device, tell it to Trust This Computer and select it when it appears on the Mac. Under the General tab, click Restore iPhone and confirm by clicking Restore.

Factory reset for macOS

On a Mac running macOS Monterey, follow these steps to factory restore your device:

  1. Select System Preferences from the top menu bar
  2. Click “Erase All Contents and Settings”
  3. Type in your password and click OK
  4. Click Continue to avoid making a backup
  5. Click Continue to all content and settings to be removed
  6. If prompted, enter your password to sign out of Apple ID
  7. Click Erase All Contents & Settings to wipe the device
  8. Follow prompts throughout the reinstallation process

At the end of the macOS factory reset process, the computer should show the Activate Mac screen.

Factory reset for Windows

On a Windows device, follow these steps to perform a factory restore. But first, if you're using a laptop or another mobile device, connect it to an outlet to keep it charged. If you can't connect your laptop to an outlet, ensure you have a battery charge of at least 50%; otherwise, Microsoft won't let you do a factory reset

  1. Open the Start Menu and click the gear icon to open Settings
  2. Select Update & Security
  3. Choose Recovery in the left pane
  4. Under the “Reset this PC” heading, click Get Started
  5. Select Remove Everything
  6. Choose Cloud download for an easier installation of Windows
  7. Click Next
  8. Click Reset

When Windows is done reinstalling, all user-installed apps and data, and user accounts will be deleted from the computer.

Disadvantages of factory reset

Overall, a factory reset can be a helpful tool for returning a device to its default settings and addressing device problems. However, knowing its potential disadvantages is important to prevent losing critical data or further compromising the device.

  • Data loss: A factory reset's major drawback is that it erases all of the data on the device, including all contacts, messages, photographs, videos, and other sensitive information that might have been saved there. As a result, it's crucial to back up all important data before a factory reset.
  • Time-consuming: Performing a factory reset can be time-consuming, especially if you don't have a proper tool to do it. After the reset, you must reinstall all your apps and configure all your settings.
  • Software updates: The loss of software updates installed on the device may also happen when doing a factory reset.
  • Malware persistence: As previously mentioned, some viruses can resist a factory reset, especially if they have infected the firmware or operating system of the device.

Simplified, remote factory reset

While mobile devices running Android or iOS may have built-in support for a remote wipe or factory reset, the same is not always true of laptops. Companies wanting to prepare a laptop for a new employee or minimize the risk of a lost or stolen device could benefit from remote factory reset functionality. Factory Reset is one of many data protection features available from Prey for Windows devices. Learn more about Prey’s Factory Reset and Kill Switch data protection tools.

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