iOS Has Been Saving Your Deleted SMS Attachments

Posted February 6, 2013 at 9:15am by iClarified | Please help us and submit a translation by clicking here | 43874 views

iOS has been saving your SMS and iMessage attachments even after you've deleted them, according to several tips received from iClarified readers.

When receiving an attachment via the Messages app, iOS stores the attachment in /var/mobile/Library/SMS/Attachments directory. Once an attachment is deleted the related files should be removed from the directory. Unfortunately, it appears that this has not been the case for some versions of iOS.

We used two devices, one on iOS 6.0 and another on iOS 6.1, to test the issue. After receiving an iMessage with a photo attachment on iOS 6.0, we examined the attachments directory to locate the file. We then deleted the attachment from the message history. Reexamining the directory showed the file was still there! Notably, the attachments directory is accessible without a jailbreak and is backed up to the computer each time you sync, or to iCloud if you use iCloud backups. This makes it quite easy to access. The files persisted even after a reboot.

We then performed the same test using a device on iOS 6.1. Fortunately, after deleting the attachment, it was deleted from the device.

It appears that Apple may have stealthily corrected the issue with iOS 6.1; however, it is still a major security concern for users on earlier firmware versions and users with device backups on their computer or iCloud. In addition, it appears that this bug may explain why some users have been reporting missing free space on their device. For those users these attachments have been accumulating over time and could be causing GBs of wasted space on their device.

One source tells us that he found images on his device that were deleted over two years ago. Unfortunately, the images can't be easily deleted as you probably don't want to wipe all your attachments. However, if you are worried about security it might be a good idea.

Jailbroken users can delete everything in their attachments directory by executing "rm -R /var/mobile/Library/SMS/Attachments/*" in MobileTerminal or deleting the content of the directory using iFile; however, this reportedly can cause problems with third party tweaks such as BiteSMS.

Non-jailbroken users may be able to modify a backup of their device to remove the 'deleted' attachments and then restore that back to their device. The best solution is of course a clean restore to iOS 6.1.

Please let us know in the comments if you've been experiencing this issue and if iOS 6.1 has resolved it.


iOS 6.0 (FAILS TO DELETE ATTACHMENTS):


iOS 6.1 (SUCCESSFULLY DELETES ATTACHMENTS):

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DaveWest - May 28, 2014 at 7:12am
Do you know how to retrieve deleted iMessages from iPhone? http://www.leawo.org/tutorial/iphone-data-recovery-how-to-recover-deleted-imessages-from-iphone.html
Vincent - April 3, 2014 at 6:50am
How to recover deleted iMessages from iPhone? http://www.leawo.org/tutorial/ipad-data-recovery-recover-deleted-imessages-from-ipad.html
Rhonda - June 26, 2013 at 4:02pm
I have that exact issue; but I am unsure how to clear all deleted messages with attachments I have tried restoring my iphone to factory settings but all that did was delete my itunes!!??!! I am not a computer programmer over here but step by step how to do this will help me out alot!!
Derek Brown - March 24, 2013 at 10:52pm
I have some of these 'deleted' images on my phone. Is there a way to tell who I sent these to or who sent them to me? Or when they were sent/received?
John - May 17, 2013 at 2:16pm
Has anyone found a way to determine where these attachements originated? Like the original message information?
Derek Brown - May 17, 2013 at 6:43pm
I tried to figure it out, but I eventually gave up. I suspect the details are purged from the messages database, but the raw attachments are left intact, making it impossible to see who sent/received the attachments or any related test messages. However, if you have a jailbroken iPhone, you can look at the folders containing the attachments to see when they were created and at least get an idea of when the messages were sent/received.
Flubber - February 24, 2013 at 10:15am
Those attachments used 5Gb of my iphone... I was looking everywhere for those others file (classic directory you found on forums or tutorials to get rid of other place, till i found this article. 5Gb of loose place filled with photos of my kid took long long time ago...
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