Electronic keepsakes are hard to keep
June 21, 2016 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me back up SMS messages stored in Hangouts on an old Android Nexus 5? Difficulty: I've entirely forgotten the passcode for this phone.

The last communications I have from a dear deceased friend are stored in the Hangouts app on this old phone. I don't really need the phone, but I would love to save those messages. I've installed an SMS backup app remotely, but when I turned the phone on I discovered that I'd forgotten the passcode. It's a Nexus 5 that was on Sprint, though I no longer have an account with them. I feel pretty stupid about not being able to solve this one with Google and my wits.

Any clever ideas from the Metaverse?
posted by faethverity to Technology (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you checked to make sure they didn't auto-sync to your google account? Search your gmail for "sms" and see if that pulls your hangout messages. Mine appear to do this by default.
posted by phunniemee at 4:58 PM on June 21, 2016

Leave the phone next to a chair you sit in a lot or something and pick it up and turn it on from time to time. IME, your muscle memory will kick in and you'll remember the code when you're not trying to remember it.
posted by rhizome at 5:21 PM on June 21, 2016

It's a pretty involved and not entirely risk-free process, but if you shove a third-party recovery (TWRP or ClockworkMod, most likely) onto it than you can access the entire filesystem over ADB after booting into recovery mode, and you could disable the passcode, or just yank the entire Hangouts data directory. This requires a fair bit of hacking and risk, though (a bad recovery flash can basically kill the phone, and the ADB control system wants some familiarity with command-line control.

I'm only really familiar with the process for pushing a custom recovery on for Samsung devices, but I imagine there must be a similar process for the Nexus 5.
posted by jackbishop at 5:53 PM on June 21, 2016

Did you have the full disc encryption turned on?
posted by Candleman at 8:51 PM on June 21, 2016

Is the phone still attached to your google account?

Sprint or no sprint shouldn't matter as long as it can connect to wifi.

Install android device manager remotely: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.apps.adm&hl=en

Then visit https://www.google.com/android/devicemanager and you can select "lock" and replace the old lock screen with a new password.

In theory, anyway....
posted by devbrain at 7:00 AM on June 22, 2016

I tried it on an old n5 I had in the drawer, and it didn't work. The sequence on my 5x indicated it would replace the old lock screen with a new password, but testing on the 5 the device manager just reported "it's already got a lock screen so the new password won't be used".

Either this is a 5 vs 5x difference, or a difference in android release. Without the lock screen you can't update the OS anyway, so that might be a losing path to follow.

I'd give this a go, and then look at plugging in via usb to your computer and using ADB to poke about.
posted by devbrain at 7:11 AM on June 22, 2016

Auto-sync was only syncing hangouts messages, not SMS. And yeah, the set a new password remotely thing didn't work for the reasons devbrain said. I'm pretty sure I didn't have encryption turned on? I've been doing the try a new pattern every now and then thing, but still no luck. It's still connected to wifi and to my google account so I guess I'll poke around with ADB at some point! It's not like this phone is taking up a lot of physical space. Thank you, folks!
posted by faethverity at 8:09 AM on June 22, 2016

I'm pretty sure I didn't have encryption turned on?

It got turned on by default at a certain point with the images Google pushed out to the Nexuses. If it is encrypted, things like ADB aren't going to work, because that's the entire point of the encryption.

As long as the device isn't configured to wipe the drive after a certain number of bad attempts (which it doesn't sound like it is, but wrack your brain to be sure), you can brute force the PIN using a device that presents as a keyboard.

If you're still in Portland, you might be able to find someone at a makerspace or the like that would be willing to help you do this for free or a nominal charge.
posted by Candleman at 8:42 AM on June 22, 2016

If the messages are stored in Hangouts, couldn't you log into that Hangouts account from a computer and download the messages via Google Takeout?
posted by nixxon at 9:57 AM on June 22, 2016

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