How Data Recovery Experts Restore Lost Data

by Rod Dunne on August 19, 2010

in Articles, Data Recovery

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What process do data recovery experts use to restore lost data from your hard drive? Are the data recovery tools they use vastly different from the ones that are commercially available to everyone?

This article steps through the process of restoring lost data that the experts use and that you can use for restoring your own data.

1: Analysis

Start by assessing how the data was lost. If it was deleted, formatted or corrupted (e.g. due to a virus) then data recovery tools should still be able to find and read the data directly off of the hard disk. So proceed to step 2. Our article on post format data recovery goes into more detail about the factors affecting file recovery on formatted disks.

However if there has been a fault with the hard drive or some of its components (e.g. seized bearing, water/fire damage, power surge) then the experts need to do what is called a mechanical recovery. This entails removing the disk from its casing and reading the data directly from disk using specialist hardware.

This isn’t something you could do at home, so contact the experts if you suspect a mechanical fault. For example, a clicking noise may indicate the drive motor is faulty and a grating noise could indicate the spindle/bearings are seized up.

2: Picking The Right Data Recovery Software

Up to this point we have solely mentioned hard drives, but it is possible to restore lost data from USB flash devices, external hard drives, ZIP disks as well as the multitude of available memory cards. See our post on USB flash security for more information on protecting USB contents.

All data recovery tools target specific file system formats so you need to pick the right software that supports the device you want to read from. For example, the FAT-32 format is used by Windows on internal hard drives, but is also used by flash memory devices and many external hard drives – so any tool supporting FAT-32 will be useful for restoring lost data on each of these devices.

Suggested Data Recovery Software:

3: Recover The Files

No matter which data recovery tool is chosen they all restore lost data the same way:

  • You pick a drive to scan.
  • The program finds data clusters on the disk that represents user documents/files.
  • You choose which files from the scan results you wish to clone/recover.

For Deleted Data: Restoring lost data that was deleted in error works best if the recovery is attempted promptly. Deletion only removes a files index but leaves its data on the hard drive memory. This data will eventually be overwritten by newly saved files.

For Formatted Data: Restoring lost data after a drive was formatted is still possible but the results depend entirely on how the disk drive is used post-format. If you reinstall the operating system then a large amount of original documents will be overwritten completely so the results may be poor.

The specialist software used by the recovery experts has the potential of finding a greater number of files (especially from formatted disks) as these can analyze a hard drive’s memory using forensic analysis to seek out file patterns.

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