Top 10 DIY Data Recovery Fails

Thursday, 27 July 2017 by Jennifer Duits


For anyone looking for a do-it-yourself (DIY) project, the internet has a wealth of knowledge, even for DIY data recovery. Whether you want to bake a dinosaur cake or fix the kitchen sink, you can find step-by-step instructions for just about anything and DIY data recovery is no different. However what is different, is the risk you take when attempting to recover data without consulting a professional first. Unlike baking a cake or fixing a sink, there is a high risk of irreversible, permanent damage.

Just to be clear, there are plenty of scenarios where using a DIY data recovery software can work very well, but this is not what I'm talking about. What we are seeing is an influx of drives where a DIY data recovery method was used and the results were disastrous. Here is a list of the Top 10 DIY Data Recovery Fails we see most often. Please, do not try this at home:


10. A common DIY fail – When a hard drive fails, individuals will run CHKDSK, which destroys data that would otherwise have been recoverable.

9. Common RAID 5 error - When a drive fails in a RAID 5, it will continue to function in a degraded mode. Most people are unaware because they don't monitor the array, but when a second drive fails, the array fails, and the data is inaccessible. That's when they pull the drives out, reset them and reboot. At that point, the initial degraded drive may spin up and come ready. The RAID controller will notice the data on the degraded drive is not in sync with the data in parity on the other drives, so it rebuilds parity with the invalid data from the degraded drive. This can overwrite days, weeks, months or even years of data.

8. Forever encrypted - Certain external drives are encrypted and the encryption key resides on a chip inside the electronics of the enclosure. When these drives fail, owners will throw away the external enclosure and try the drive in a different one. Ultimately, the drives are sent in for data recovery and cannot be unencrypted.

7. Software fail - Often attempts are made to recover data from a hard drive with physical damage / read errors using data recovery software. Some users will also load the software onto the damaged drive, which includes the data they are trying to recover. This results in further damage to the hard drive and the data. There is also a risk of the data being overwritten.

6. Sticky rice – Due to a popular internet remedy, people will put wet phones in rice in an attempt to dry them out. Phones are sent in for data recovery service covered in rice and rice residue.

5. Technology guru – Most people have a friend or relative that is thought of as an “expert” in technology. When a data recovery is needed, this technology guru will open the hard drive in a non-cleanroom environment and dust will fall on the drive. The dust is then cleaned off with their hand. Although the dust will be cleared away, the fingerprint left behind will cause additional data to be lost.

4.Open me - People try to open hard drives and often miss the screw(s) hidden underneath the labels. They then proceed to use a screwdriver to pry open the top cover causing scratching, divots and in some cases, breaking of the platters. When scratched or gouged, the top surface becomes unrecoverable, resulting in only a partial recovery at best.

3. Freezer recovery - Another DIY internet myth is putting a hard drive in the freezer to recover the data. People will often do this and then attempt to run the still-frozen hard drive. During this process, water will condense and freeze to the platters of the drive, causing the frozen hard drive to crash.

2. Old tricks – Years ago, a person could swap the circuit board on a drive in an attempt to fix it, but now the boards are specific to the drive. Without the original drive, it will never function. Some people are still attempting this today. They try to swap the circuit board in their drive in order to recover their data and when it doesn’t work, they send it in for professional data recovery. In a few instances, Ontrack was sent a pile of boards and their cleanroom engineers had to figure out the correct one before the data could be recovered.


1.  Something is missing - There is a tip on the Internet that if you remove the platters from one drive and move them to a new one, you can recover the data from the platters.  This method has been tried countless times without success. The person will then send the platters in for professional data recovery and in some cases, it is just the platters in a sandwich baggie, nothing else.  Without knowledge of the hard drive model, among other vital information, the data is unrecoverable.

When looking for a data loss solution, we would always recommend to consult a professional first.