Data rescue: The challenges of a DIY data recovery

26 Mar 2018256 Views

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How should you go about rescuing your lost data? Image: Viblyphoto/Shutterstock

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LC Technology International CEO David Zimmerman discusses why data recovery should be a last resort.

Modern laptops and desktops can hold a massive amount of information, including tens of thousands of pictures and millions of pages of text.

Despite their storage capacities, these devices should not be used as a means to permanently store digital information, because they’re prone to breakage and data corruption.

Recovering data from one of these failed devices is difficult, and requires a high level of expertise that’s not always accessible to the person that likes to fix things themselves.

Older laptops were an easier fix

Older laptops that were constructed with traditional hard drives were fairly simple to pop open and fix. You could unscrew a few screws holding the case together, and then plug into the drive via a universal SATA port to retrieve the data. Opening the actual drive itself is not without risk, or advisable, as dust could and will enter the drive, causing contamination and potentially additional damage during the process.

For example, older drives would be subject to something called stiction, and sometimes became ‘stuck’, whereby the head and actuator were locked or stuck and the motor failed to spin, causing the hard drive platters to spin improperly. One trick that had some reported success involved placing a hard drive in the freezer, which would cause the metal to contract and become unstuck, at least long enough to offload the data.

SSDs present trickier problems

Modern solid state drives (SSDs) in newer portable computers are much more difficult to access. These laptops are built very thin, and reaching the casing screws is sometimes impossible. Even if the case can be opened, many of these drives are inaccessible and sometimes even soldered directly onto the other components, so removal is virtually impossible.

If someone has an SSD laptop that’s inoperable and contains important data, then the only viable option is to send the machine to a specialised shop. This company will open the device in a clean room and have the right sockets to match to the laptop’s proprietary connectors. While such recovery is usually successful, it could potentially cost thousands and will require a considerable amount of time.

Recovery services are also the only viable option if the machine was exposed to water, or if it was dropped and it’s likely some part of the drive was broken. If you hear loud clicking noises, or the machine was immersed in liquid, then the best route is to turn it off and keep it off. Never use a hairdryer or other hot air on the machine as this can push the liquid into further components and create an environment of high humidity. Simply find a recovery service and let the experts handle it.

Avoid software tools

There are hundreds of software utility tools that can be downloaded off the internet for free, and offer promises of fast and easy data retrieval. Unfortunately, many of these are filled with malware, and using them will expose the data to theft or worse.

Avoid using free utility services that do not have an established reputation as effective and virus-free tools. For example, SanDisk offers multiple recovery products (mainly for SD cards) that are virus-free and well respected among industry professionals.

Despite the availability of some recovery options, the best way to avoid going through the expensive recovery process is to proactively manage data so that if a device fails, it does not have as big of an impact on your productivity. You simply buy a new machine and go about your day.

Here’s some tips for reducing the risks of data loss.

Sync data with the cloud

Secure and reliable data backups are best done in the cloud. Use a reputable cloud service such as Google or Amazon to mirror your data from your computer to a secure virtual server. Cloud storage is very cheap and provides you with risk protection through automated backups, so set your data to back up automatically. You can also use external hard drives to create backups of your backups for extra peace of mind.

Use the best security solutions

The first line of defence for a computer should be a login PIN number, which offers a layer of protection against theft. Another tactic is to install (and update frequently) a firewall program and a well-regarded antivirus and malware utility. You can also encrypt your data, which makes it nearly impossible to read unless in possession of the encryption key. Update the OS frequently to pull in the latest security patches and use multifaceted tools that will warn you about possible phishing emails, unsecured websites and other hacking attempts.

Recovery should always be seen as a last resort that’s used to pull the most important data. It’s best to treat a laptop or desktop as simply a gateway for reaching the internet and a way to power software. With the cloud, there’s no longer any reason to use a computer as a storage device. So, if something goes wrong with the machine, then simply buy a new one and dive back into work.

David Zimmerman has been in the hardware/software industry for more than 30 years, specifically in the data recovery software market for 20 years. He is CEO of LC Technology International, a global leader in data recovery, file system utilities and data security technology.