These days with all the devices we own, it’s inevitable that data will get lost at some point down the line. Whether it’s years of music and family photos or critical business information; it can be a daunting and stressful time and it pays to assess the situation properly before deciding on the best course of action.
We’ve seen many different data loss situations over the years; including some where a recovery is no longer possible because DIY efforts by the user have ended up caused more damage. Here we’ll share some tips on what to do (and not do) when you suspect you’ve lost data and how to give yourself the best chance of a recovery being possible.
Turn it off and on?
We’ll start with probably one of the greatest technical jokes of the lot – however the supposedly simple act of turning your system on and off again isn’t as helpful as it seems. In fact, if you suspect you’ve lost data it is best in most cases to power off your system immediately, refrain from turning it on again and seek professional help.
While running, your operating system (OS) and other installed software will write to your drive in different ways, including many ‘behind-the-scenes’ system processes such as driver updates, virus scanning and OS updates. Even when your computer seems to be sitting idle, data is continually being written to your drive and has the potential to overwrite the data that you’ve lost or deleted. Even seemingly small tasks such as browsing the internet and checking your emails can make the situation worse and hinder data recovery efforts.
This means you’ll want to refrain from using your system at all if you think you’ve lost data, which leads us to…
DIY recovery software
This is often deemed as the quickest and cheapest course of action, but is it advisable? Getting your hands on some reputable do-it-yourself data recovery software is easy and can be a real help in situations where you’ve got external storage (USB hard drive, SD card, etc.) and you have accidentally deleted data or formatted the device. However, do not use data recovery software on the same system that you have lost data. This will write more data to your drive and as we’ve already mentioned – this could quickly destroy lost or deleted files by overwriting them. Actions such as downloading the software files and running a scan can quickly wipe out files that might otherwise have been recoverable. In short, it can be very easy to make things worse when using DIY software, so always proceed with caution.
The safer alternative here is to take the affected drive out and connect it to a separate machine running data recovery software, but this can be challenging if you don’t know how. If you suspect your drive is physically damaged then you should refrain from any DIY software method, but most importantly you should definitely avoid…
Opening the drive yourself
A quick search online brings up many DIY video guides with a lot of views claiming they can show you how to successfully open your hard drive and fix problems like ‘buzzing’ and ‘clicking’ noises, which are usually signs of physical failures. Be warned: opening your hard drive outside of a cleanroom environment can cause irreparable damage to your data and we’d strongly advise against it.
We regularly receive drives that have been opened where small dust particles and even the slightest scratches or dents have caused significant harm and made potentially successful recoveries impossible. Hard drives are delicate, complex devices and a great deal of precision and experience is needed to work around a problem to recover the data. There’s so much that can go wrong by trying to do it yourself, therefore it’s best to let the experts take a look rather than cutting corners and risk your data being permanently lost.
It’s quite like dealing with a broken bone; most of us would probably look online first for information about the symptoms, but we wouldn’t take matters into our own hands in terms of treatment as we’re not trained medical professionals! Seeking a thorough, expert analysis should be your first course of action to obtain a comprehensive diagnosis and prevent further damage.
Talking about further damage…
Not a cool idea
It’s an old but recurring misconception that we’ll address here; there is a long-standing myth that putting your broken hard drive in a freezer will bring it back to life. It doesn’t work and is an extremely bad idea!
The reasoning for this is as follows: as soon as you take the drive out of the freezer it will start returning to room temperature and in doing so, condensation will start to appear both inside and outside the drive. This condensation will appear on the platter surface too, which is where your data is stored magnetically. Due to the read/write heads of the drive and the platter surfaces being nanometres apart and spinning at thousands of times every minute, the water will cause significant damage to your drive and your data once you try and power it up again.
If your device has suffered water damage then it’s best to avoid using it immediately and consult an expert data recovery company for advice on what you should do next.
The best course of action
If you think your device has lost data, in most situations it’s better to stop using it immediately. It’s easier said than done, but you should try not to panic and carefully consider what might have happened. Stop, SCAN and assess your options based on the situation at hand. As we’ve seen; different circumstances require different courses of action.
The only time that DIY data recovery should be attempted is if you’ve accidentally deleted data from an external device. In these cases it’s certainly worth trying data recovery software tools, however it’s advisable to not try too hard in case you make matters worse. Remember: the more you use a device the higher the risk of further damage being caused. You should also refrain from trying DIY methods on drives that have suffered physical damage as this will almost always do more than harm than good and potentially lead to further data loss.
Got any questions or not sure if DIY recovery is right your data loss situation? Get in touch with us by leaving a comment below or by tweeting @DrDataRecovery
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.