Free Data Recovery

Hard Drive Data Recovery

Despite offering world-class data recovery from our workshop here in Portsmouth, we understand that sometimes, the data just doesn’t justify the cost of getting it recovered. If you’re going to go it alone and attempt a DIY recovery, we’ve got some handy tips to avoid making things worse. It might be a good idea to print this page to use as a reference. Also feel free to comment at the end of the post if you’d like any questions answered.

Stop Using Your Hard Drive

If you want to recover data, you can’t do it from the disk you want to recover from. When you boot up a computer it writes data to the hard drive. Even browsing the web or checking e-mails writes little cache files to the disk, potentially overwriting the files you want to recover.

Set Up

You ideally want to work from a different and reliable computer, have plenty of storage space for recovered files, and make sure everything is ready before you attach the faulty disk. You don’t always get a second chance with hard disks, so make sure you’re ready to grab the files if they appear.

Now You See Them

If you suddenly gain access to the files, copy them to another drive as soon as you can. The disk is unlikely to have repaired itself, so this might be the last chance to copy the data before if gives up completely. Take the most important files first. If the copy gets stuck, stop it straight away as the disk could be causing damage.

Watch The Clock

If you decide to try DIY recovery, keep a close eye on the time. If the estimated time keeps increasing it could be a sign of disk trouble. Failure to deal with that could cause the drive to fail completely, and beyond repair (even for us). As a guideline, it should take no longer than a few hours to copy a whole 1TB disk over USB 3.0. If your estimate says much more than that, or keeps going up in time, it could be the disk getting worse. Maybe try copying important files in small batches first. Data Recovery Time Remaining

Priorities

Your priority with a failed drive is either to make a copy of the disk, or copy off the files as soon as possible. Don’t try to scan, repair or fix any errors. A failed repair can completely damage your files beyond recovery. This means don’t ever use spinrite, diskwarrior, techtool, or any other diagnostic tool until after you’ve extracted the data. Some people report success with these tools, but it’s far safer to copy the data first, and run those tools later.

Restore or Reinstall?

Don’t re-install or restore the computer. At best it will overwrite some of the data. At worst it will overwrite all of the data and leave you with a factory-fresh (blank) version of Windows. If you’ve already done this, we can often get data back, but it won’t be as complete as a normal recovery.

Brrrr It’s Cold in Here

Never ever put a hard drive in the freezer. Although this trick is a common part of data recovery folklore, it is likely to do so much more damage than good. We have never used any type of freezing process for data recovery, and neither should you. Leaving your hard disk unplugged for a day is likely to be just as successful, and won’t risk contaminating the delicate disks and heads. Hard disks are not air-sealed so even if you put them in a sealed bag, they already have moist air inside them which can freeze and then cause condensation.

Stop Hitting Yourself

If you saw how delicate the inside of a hard disk was, you’d never consider hitting, tapping or knocking it. Even if you did manage to dislodge some stuck heads, you’ll probably either rip them off, or take a chunk of the disk with it. There are careful ways to remove stuck heads, but they cannot be done at home.

Keep it Together

Never dismantle a hard drive. This is a case when the “no user serviceable parts” label really is true. Not only are disk internals extremely delicate, they have an air filter in the cover to stop particles getting inside the disk. If you remove the cover, all sorts of dust and lint can get in. Dust particles are bigger than the gap between heads & disks, so they can cause the heads to crash into the disks and scrape off the magnetic coating. Once the coating is gone, the data is gone.

Good Luck

If you decide to try DIY data recovery, good luck, and be careful. If you’d rather let us look at the disk instead, get in touch.

When Backups Go Bad ~ Revisited

I was recently going through some old posts on here, and found the one with the clickbaity headline When Backups Go Bad. Despite the title, I thought it was worth looking again at some of the common ways backups can go wrong. A bad backup can be as useless as no backup at all. There is an old phrase that applies perfectly to backups. “One is None. Two is One.”

RAID Instead of Backups

This is a common one. Although RAID can protect against some hardware failures, it does nothing to protect against corrupt partitions, virus attacks, accidental deletion, formatting, multiple disk failures. The list is endless. Add to this the fact that you can have 12, 24, even 48TB stored in one massive array, and you stand to lose an awful lot of data in one go if the whole thing goes south.

Same Disk, Different Day

There are ways to partition a disk so it appears to the computer as multiple disks. The danger is, if you don’t know there are two physical disks inside the computer, you could be making backups to the same disk. When it fails, both partitions will go with it. Best backup to an external drive and then you know for sure.

Break the Encryption

Encrypting any data is risky without careful consideration. By design, your encrypted data is not accessible without the password, or perhaps a recovery key that was created during the original setup. If you don’t have either of those keys, you can wave goodbye to the data.

Inbetweener

If you’re ever left with a single copy of your files, you’re on thin ice. If something goes wrong, you’ve lost one copy of the data already. We always suggest multiple backups for this reason.

The Space Maker

New computers can have painfully small storage, (hey Apple) so a common solution is to start dumping files off to an external disk. This is fine if you just move over replaceable movies & music, but you have to be prepared to never see those files again. Don’t store all your photos & documents on an external drive unless you keep another copy somewhere. External disks are no more reliable than internal ones and can fail at any time. If anything, the risk of dropping or losing an external drive is higher as they are so small and portable.

I’m sure there are more ways backups go bad. I could probably make this into a regular feature. Remember, when it comes to backups One is None, Two is One…

This drive has a hardware problem that can’t be repaired

This drive has a hardware problem that can’t be repaired.
Back up as much of the data as possible and replace the disk. See an authorised Apple dealer for more information.
S.M.A.R.T. Status : Failing

If you see the message above, your hard disk or SSD has started to fail and has reported faults to the Mac. If caught early enough, these disks can usually be recovered. You can try to copy important data to another disk but if the copy process gets stuck for a while, it’s safer to stop. If you leave a failing disk in that state it can deteriorate until the disk is ruined.

If the data is really important, and you’d rather not take the risk, you could have a look at our Mac Data Recovery Services. We have been dealing with these sorts of problems for years and have a developed a really safe way to get the data off in good condition.

This drive has a hardware problem that can't be repaired

Whatever you decide to do, don’t ignore this message. The broken disk cannot repair itself, and will only get worse. In many cases, the disk won’t even be readable by the time you see this warning.

It doesn’t matter if the disk is still inside your iMac or MacBook, we can remove it for you, and even replace the drive at the end of the recovery process if you want. Ask about our Mac Setup service if you are interested.

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Successful 8 Disk RAID Recovery

This was a RAID recovery with a challenge. The customer could only find seven of the eight disks from the RAID and two of them were not accessible. To make the challenge even more difficult, the customer did not the RAID level or any of the configuration. All we knew was the disks were from an old Dell Server.

The RAID Recovery

We first managed to overcome the failed disks and imaged all disks to our server. Once complete we analysed all of the images to determine the RAID settings and configuration. We found two different RAID’s with completely separate configurations. We used the settings to create virtual copies of the RAIDs and were able to carry out a successful recovery from both RAID Volumes.

The client was gobsmacked by the outcome. You can see his comment below:

DataQuest are amazing, we sent 7 HDD’s in a unknown raid configuration and with a failed hard drive, they managed to recover all the information we needed and more! I believed it was an impossible task, but obviously these guys know their stuff and are miracle workers! I thank the team at DataQuest and would recommend them to anyone! – Matt Bayley – February 29, 2016

We had a very satisfied customer as well as very satisfied RAID recovery Engineer. Well Done Dan, give yourself a pat on the back.

Flood and Water Damaged Hard Drives

Flood Damage Data Recovery

With the recent floods in the United Kingdom, it is important to know that time can be a critical factor when trying to recover data from mechanical hard drives that have been submerged or damaged by water. Most mechanical hard drives have breather holes that may allow water to enter the hard drive enclosure if submerged. If this is the case then the longer the hard drive is left in this condition the worse the internal damage. Even if the hard drive is left to dry out, internally the damage has already been done. Our advice is not to try this if the data is critical to you or your business.

Any water damage hard drives that we receive go straight into our clean room environment to be dismantled and dried out internally. The hard drives external electronics would also require a cleaning process to prevent any electrical shorting caused by the water residue.

Although Solid Sate Hard Drives ( SSD ) do not have any mechanical moving parts, they are still prone to damage to the data chips and electronics by residue left by the water. Very much as mechanical hard drives they would require dismantling and specialist cleaning to ensure no electrical shorting of components.

Hard Drive Encryption Data Recovery

What is Hard Drive Encrytion

Encrypted hard drives come in many forms. They can be created by the hard drive manufacturer as part of the hard drives firmware or as a third party software add on such as Symantec PGP or Microsofts Bitlocker.

Hard drive Encryption is becoming much more common especially in many large enterprise companies. Some hard drive encryption is more sophisticated than others, but in many data recovery cases we receive, a common flaw is the inability of the encryption software to overcome bad sectors on a hard drive. In most cases it results in partial or no access to the decrypted data on the hard drive by the user or even their I.T dept.

We have created an image and decryption process that allows us to recover the users data with the original file and folder structure intact. The time it takes to carry out this process will depending on the level of hard drive encryption used.

Seagate Barracuda ST2000DM & ST1000DM Problems

Seagate Barracuda ST2000DM & ST1000DM Problems
Seagate Barracuda ST2000DM & ST1000DM Problems

This year we have seen a fair number of these particular model hard drives with internal media damage caused by a head crash. These are 3.5″ hard drives from external cases such as Seagate Freeagent Go-Flex and Seagate Expansion Desktop. They are also used as internal hard drives in PCs running Windows 7 & 8 also used in Apple iMac’s running OSX.

It has been difficult to confirm whether the media damage seen has been caused by an impact such as a dropped drive or from general electronic failure. What we do know is that as soon as you hear one of these hard drives start to click, then if you have not already got a backup in place, backup your data immediately.

On an Apple Mac running OSX the first sign of a problem is usually a spinning beach ball resulting in slow access. On a PC running Windows 7 & 8, the signs of a hard drive problem are once again slow access and lack of movement from the mouse icon.

If you have a problem with a Seagate hard drive, have a look at our Seagate Data Recovery Services. If we catch it early enough we should be able to recover the data!

 

Seagate ST1000LM024 Samsung HN-M101MBB

These notebook size drives must be popular at the moment as we have started to see a fair few of them come into us. Last month we saw three of them alone with no spin failures. When opened in our clean room we have found that the internal mechanical heads have prevented the motor and discs from spinning as a result of the heads sitting on the disc media. In normal operation the heads should never touch the discs but fly above them carrying out the reading and writing. When the drive is not in use or idle the heads will locate on a parking ramp at the side of the discs. If power to the hard drive is lost while it is reading or writing then this will cause the heads to drop onto the discs and not onto the parking ramp. Once reworked in our internal clean room they were all recovered successfully.

A common cause of this, is the unplugging of the USB cable incorrectly.

Windows 10 Upgrade Problems

Windows PC Data Recovery

If you’ve had a disaster during the Windows 10 Upgrade, don’t panic. Chances are your data is fine, but whatever you do next could change that!

If You Have a Backup

If you made a backup of the data before the upgrade then check the backup files on another computer. If the backup is good, the safest way forward is to restore the backup onto a fresh drive. Then if you find a problem with the data later, or if the restore fails, you still have the original “broken” drive to send to us for recovery. A common mistake is to restore the backup onto the failed disk, but if that goes wrong you’re left with nothing!

Windows 10 Upgrade Problems
Windows 10 Upgrade Problems

If You Don’t Have a Backup

If you don’t have a backup you need to be really careful what you do next. If you send / bring the computer or disk to us, we can safely recover the data using the techniques we’ve developed over the last 15 years.

Whatever you decide, give us a call first, and we can warn you against doing anything that could harm the data.

The Problem With Disk Imaging

When you hear of data recovery companies using disk imaging as part of their process, this is done to create a Bit by Bit copy of the customers hard drive. This then allows work to be carried out on a copy instead of the original. It can also be used to take the data off the customers hard drive in a controlled manner, especially when the hard drive shows signs of being unstable. In those situations this process usually works well and has a very good success rate, but what if the customers hard drive is part of a criminal investigation that requires forensic evidence for court proceedings.

This then takes the whole disk imaging process to a different level. A hard drives data storage is not as straight forward as it appears when you see it on your computer. The hard drive manufacturer allows the user access to the majority of the hard drives storage space, but there are areas of the drive that are kept free and protected (HPA) for use by the manufacturer only. It is these areas that are not normally carried over in a standard Bit by Bit imaging process used by most data recovery companies.

Technically If someone wanted to hide specific data and had the use of specialist tools, they could hide data within these protected areas. There are also many other alterations, that can be carried out to a hard drive to hide user data, so it can be a bit of a mine field for forensic data recovery. To read a more detailed technical description then please see the following article about Forensic Imaging.