iClarified is reporting that iOS keeps a copy of your SMS and iMessage attachments even after you’ve deleted them, according to several tips received from their readers. They’ve noted that iMessage attachments, which are saved in /var/mobile/Library/SMS/Attachments directory, are not removed from this location even after the original attachment has been deleted in newer versions of iOS.
According to the report, a user found images on his device that were deleted over two years ago. Luckily, the issue seams to have been resolved in iOS 6.1. It appears that Apple may have corrected the issue with the latest iOS update. However, it is still a major security concern for users on earlier firmware versions and users with device backups on their computer or iCloud.
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.
Additionally, it appears that this bug may explain why some users have been reporting missing free space on their device, since these attachments may have been accumulating over time and could be causing GBs of wasted space on their device.