Help! Data Recovery from Mobile Devices

Friday, 16 January 2015 by Jennifer Duits

What starts out as a quick update or installation of a new app on your smartphone or tablet suddenly ends with nothing working and all of your photos, texts, contacts, etc. gone. Or you have a situation like me where you did an innocent thing like pull your mobile phone out of your pocket and dropped it on the floor resulting in a cracked, useless, device (yes, I even had a name-brand rugged case on it). Now what? Is it possible to recover the sensitive data stored on the device yourself or should you contact a specialist? Because it is a mobile device, in contrast to "normal" computers or laptops it is different.

Where is data usually stored on a smartphone?

In an iOS-based Apple smartphone, all data is stored exclusively on the internal memory of the device. Depending on the model, the iPhone has a different sized NAND flash memory. Alternatively, data can also be stored via iTunes or on iCloud in the cloud.  The same also applies to the iPad. Android-based smartphones, however, offer the possibility to use three different data storage places. In addition to the internal memory - mostly NAND flash - many devices have a (micro-) SD card slot on which the data can be saved. As a last resort, various data can be stored on the SIM card of the Telco provider depending on the available amount of memory. Most Android phones also have cloud options for back-up depending on the manufacturer and service provider.

What types of data loss can occur on a smartphone?

Like most data storage devices both physical damage and logical errors can occur. An example of physical damage on a smartphone is when the flash memory chip or the used controller fails on the internal circuit board caused by a fall (see story above) and now the device can no longer be used. Or the internal memory chips partially break within the device and data can no longer be accessed or saved. Several examples of a logical error would be missing or incorrect file structures or linkages, corrupt files and file formats as well as faulty memory allocations. In short, all logical errors cause files not to be displayed, but still exist on the memory.

And who is able to help?

Whether it is a logical or physical failure, in most cases, an affected user cannot recover their data alone. The chance that a user can save data using freely available software tools from the internet, is really low. On the contrary, the use of such tools can cause the device to stop saving data and since some programs work on "live objects", they will overwrite data and destroy it.

For this reason, any user who suffers from data loss on mobile devices should always consult a professional data recovery company. Only specialists who have frequently and successfully engaged in data recovery from mobile devices can really assess whether there is a realistic chance to recover important material from mobile phones or tablets. It is essential to choose a provider who has a large amount of experience restoring data from your type of mobile device.

Ontrack has developed even more specialised tools in the past year for Apple recoveries, which allow our data recovery engineers to repair the mobile operating system and then access the data. We have recently increased the success rate for data recovery from Apple mobile devices and the engineers of the research and development department are always working feverishly on additional data recovery solutions for all types of mobile devices.