We’ve all been there at some point in our lives; you accidentally delete your most recent copy of that presentation you’ve been working on for the past few days. You didn’t mean to click ‘yes’ on that popup and you accidentally format your external hard drive with all your photos on. You drop your iPad in the bath while you’re watching your favorite Netflix series… any of these sound familiar?
In most cases, if you’ve lost data there is still a chance that it can be recovered. However, for that to be possible there are some things you should and shouldn’t do in order to preserve your data. Here’s a quick bite-sized overview of the things you should remember when you think you may have been affected by data loss:
Stop what you are doing
Further use of your device could make the situation worse and render your data permanently irrecoverable. It’s advisable therefore to safely discontinue using your device in any capacity. What’s more, in the cases of fire and flood damage you’ll want to minimize any potential risk to yourself and your data by stopping what you are doing.
Keep calm and make notes
Assess the circumstances and gain an understanding of what happened. Having a good idea of what went wrong is essential to deciding your next course of action. What were you doing when the data loss happened? Did you hear any unusual noises or smell burning? Did you see anything out of the ordinary? No matter how simple the situation may seem, make as many notes as you can so you can refer back to them later. What is the total data capacity of your device? What kind of files do you think are missing?
Check for backups
If you’ve got an external backup drive, use a separate computer to check it for any backups of files you think you may have lost. This may sound like an obvious one, but it’s very important – you may find that you don’t need to take any further action if you’ve been regularly backing up your device to another hard drive or to the cloud.
Notify a specialist
If you can’t find a backup, notify your IT department, IT service provider, or a data recovery specialist. Those notes you made will come in handy here – make sure you relay all of the information you gathered. Your chosen expert will then have everything they need to make an informed decision about your situation and advise on next steps.
Package your device properly
If you need to send off your device for data recovery service, make sure you package it well and use a reputable delivery service with a tracking system, or deliver it by hand yourself. Your chosen provider should give you all of the information you need to package your device safely, but as a general rule for personal devices make sure that you use a box twice the size of the device. You should then pack your device with care, preferably putting it in an anti-static bag. If your device has suffered fire or water damage your data recovery provider can offer advice on any additional precautions to take.
Now let’s take a look at some of the things you should avoid doing when you suspect you have lost data. While some of them may seem like common sense, they are all very important to understand as they can all contribute to the likelihood of being able to recover your data successfully.
Losing data is stressful, no matter what the situation. In times of panic we often tend to make irrational or uninformed decisions, which can be fatal in terms of successful data recovery. Take a moment to understand what has happened before you take any further action.
Use your device further
Like we mentioned earlier – if you suspect you have lost data do not use your device further, in any capacity. Even seemingly simple tasks like checking emails, browsing the internet or looking through your computer files is writing more information to your device and potentially overwriting the very files you have lost.
Using CHKSDK is quite like using Thor’s hammer to hang a picture – it will do everything it can to get your system running properly but it will end up destroying any files that get it its way. It may be tempting to try it, but it is almost always best not to use this tool.
When you’ve lost data, it’s very tempting to take matters into your own hands and attempt to do something yourself. While it might seem like a good idea at the time, DIY methods can often lead to further accidental damage and even permanent data loss. Instead of using DIY methods try contacting your IT specialist or reputable data recovery specialist first – a good provider will give you all of the options based on the situation and advise if it is safe for you to try DIY software methods. If you’d like more information about why DIY data recovery can be a bad idea, check out this article.
Open your hard drive
Last but not least, you should never attempt to open your device yourself. Unless you are an experienced data recovery specialist in a cleanroom environment, you are almost always going to cause more damage, no matter how careful you are. For spinning hard drives, even microscopic dust particles can have a catastrophic effect on your device and can destroy data that could have been saved by a professional. Like many DIY methods, it’s tempting to try them, but this is something you should always leave for the specialists.
All in all, if you suspect you have lost data try to act rationally and cautiously. Taking those extra moments to assess the problem before acting could be the difference between getting data back and it being lost forever. If you’re in doubt, contact your local IT professional or a reputable data recovery provider – they will be able to give you advice on what to do next.
Mikey has been with Ontrack for 6 years and is the Partner Program Manager, based out of the Epsom, UK office. He is a regular contributor to the Ontrack blog, usually writing about how different types of data storage technologies work. Outside of work you’ll find him either with a guitar in his hands or learning about rocket science.