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Data Recovery Series

Data Loss Recovery Process

by Alfredo D. Troche, Senior Marketing Communication Specialist, WD

September 15, 2016

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Data loss can happen to anyone. While you can go to great lengths to protect your valuable data, it can be wiped out instantly by accidental deletion, incompatible software, data corruption, hacking, or even a simple power surge or outage. Even in extreme cases like fire and water damage, crushing or dropping, today’s modern data recovery specialists can recover data from devices that seem to have been completely destroyed.

If data has just disappeared from your device, or your device with data on it won’t start up, there’s a good chance of recovery. Part 2 in the Data Recovery Series explores data loss, types of data loss and the recovery process.

What is Data Loss?

There are times when data loss can be expected—when a drive is dropped, crushed, burned or immersed in liquid. There are also times when data loss can be a complete surprise—when it has accidentally been erased, sabotaged, or the data control structures have been overwritten by newly installed software.

You may be a victim of data loss if your device does not boot up, your drive volume and files are missing or inaccessible, files refuse to open, or readable files have been corrupted. Some drives fail after a normal lifespan, while others can fail prematurely. Some drives can be erased or damaged with a power surge, or sudden power loss. In most cases, the data is there, it’s just not accessible through the usual mechanisms. That’s when professional data recovery experts can save companies money and individuals from data loss stress.

Types of Data Loss

  • File Deletion and Overwrites - Accidental deletion can occur by clicking the wrong confirmation dialog box, or erasing data that you thought was backed up. With most operating systems, deleting a file only removes the associated entries in the file tables. The actual data still exists and is still recoverable, but if the drive continues to operate, it can overwrite the data, erasing it permanently. Power down a drive that you suspect is compromised immediately, and send to a professional recovery expert.
  • Data Corruption, Viruses and Missing Files - Corruption can occur when a computer is suddenly shut down, when a program fails due to an internal error, or if an external hard drive is suddenly unplugged from a computer without proper dismounting. Files fail to open or will disappear entirely from the computer’s directory. Intentional viruses or malicious Trojan horses can infect hard drives and distort or destroy data. In many cases, corrupt data can be easily recovered by trained technicians.
  • Physical Damage - Fire can melt electronics, and the likelihood of data recovery will depend on the intensity of the fire and the hard drive’s proximity to the flame and smoke. If a hard drive’s platters are intact, data recovery is likely, but if they’re fused or melted, it can be more of a challenge. Conversely, water can corrode electronics when submerged during a flood or other disaster, and requires immediate treatment before the drive can dry out.
  • Software Issues - Sometimes upgrading an operating system, installing a new program or updating the device’s firmware can render the device unresponsive. Incorrect firmware can instruct the hard drive to misplace the read/write heads, and can also cause file corruption. After a software upgrade, files can be partially or completely unreadable, and file names may be incorrect, and the computer may not be able to load its operating system.

The Essential Clean Room

During the recovery process, data recovery engineers open each storage device to inspect for physical damage and repair delicate components. Tiny airborne particles can accumulate on the open hard disk drive platters, causing read-write heads to malfunction and damage the platter surfaces. When this happens, valuable data could be lost forever.

To protect drives and data from contaminants, data recovery specialists should perform data recoveries in a Cleanroom environment (e.g., Certified ISO Class 5).

Affected drives arrive at a triage area where the exterior of all devices are wiped free of contaminants and debris prior to entering the Cleanroom, where technicians can open sealed drive mechanisms in accordance with leading hardware and storage device manufacturers’ specifications without voiding the original warranty.

Insist on viewing a data recovery’s Cleanroom certification, which should identify routine audits that have been completed to receive ISO 14644-1 certification.

We hope you are enjoying and learning lots in our Data Recovery Series. Just in case you missed Part 1, you can check it out here: Data Loss First Steps and Best Practices. In the next post, we’ll explore recovery methods involving NAND flash memory, like the kind found in most SSD drives, tablets and smartphones. Stay tuned…and stay backed-up!