PGP Whole Disk Encryption

What is Hard Drive Encrytion

PGP WDE is an encryption tool that uses a boot loader installed on an internal hard drive. This utility launches before Windows and prompts the user to input their password. Without the password you cannot gain access to the data.

This utility is widely used by IBM personnel and is now part of IBM’s  process that has to be adhered to by end users. Prior to this utility IBM hard drives were restricted access by a low level ATA hard drive password setup  by the internal IBM IT department.  As computer systems advanced and maybe as a result of a reduced IBM IT department,  IBM adopted the user friendly PGP encryption process.

We regulary receive these hard drives from IBM, and we find that the major problem is related to the PGP boot sequence. PGP does not like a hard drive that is suffering from bad sectors, especially within the partition table. It results in the user being unable to load their access code on startup, or in some cases the code is accepted but does not boot correctly due to bad sectors further along.

We have a lot of experience recovering data from PGP whole disk encrypted hard drives and as a result our data recovery process has a very high success rate.

Mavericks (10.9) Western Digital Data Loss (UPDATED)

Portsmouth & Southsea Mac Support

We’ve been hearing reports of data loss with certain external hard drives after an upgrade to the latest Mac operating system Mavericks. The blame seems to fall to the disk management software that Western Digital bundle with their external hard drives. In response WD has removed WD Drive Manager, WD Raid Manager, and WD SmartWare from their website until they figure out the problem.

We have already had first-hand data recovery enquiries for such disks, so it remains to be seen if these issues can be resolved, or if the data is permanently damaged. One notable case involved a 6TB RAID with two 3TB drives in a mirrored array. After the update to Mavericks, the volume appeared as an empty 3TB drive.

It’s worth noting that even if you use a Western Digital RAID drive set as a mirror, this problem can still cause data loss. Both disks in the mirror are susceptible to the same problem. Remember that RAIDs need to be backed up even more than single disks!

More info and links at MacRumours

Update – 8-11-2013

We’ve now completed the recovery process for one of these hard drives. It appears that the drive we received had been formatted to an empty MyBook volume. The way the Mac filesystem stores data means although most of the files can be recovered, it is not possible to restore the original file and folder structure. This causes issues for files like InDesign which link to external files by name when you add graphics to the document.

We’ve not yet seen enough of these disks to know if this is a common outcome for all affected disks.

Time Machine Must Create A New Backup For You

Time Machine must create new backup for you
Time Machine must create new backup for you

The other day I got an error message from Time Machine that it wanted to start from scratch with the backups on my Time Capsule. As I only use the Time Capsule as one part of my backup routine that was no big deal. I made sure my other non Time Capsule backups were up to date and then clicked Start New Backup. But what if the Time Capsule had been my only backup? I’d have been running without a backup for as long as Time Machine takes to backup my machine from scratch. Somehow I’ve trimmed my work laptop down to 78GB but it still estimated 6-14 hours until completion. (Yes, over wireless. No, I can’t relocate my office for the day.) What if my laptop died in that time? I’d have a dead laptop, a deleted Time Machine backup and an unfinished Time Machine Backup. In other words I’d be stuffed!

Now don’t get me wrong, I think that Time Machine has been brilliant in getting people making regular backups and I applaud the ease of use. The problem I have is that the language they use in their warnings is not strong enough. People should be more scared of losing their precious family photos or business files. There’s no need to sugar coat it. Also instead of deleting the old backup first, Time Machine should start a new backup and then delete the old one after the new one is verified. As long as there is enough free space of course. In my case there was plenty of free space.

I have included the original warning text below, along with my own version. I’ve not gone totally overboard, and sure it could use some work, but little details like this could really costs somebody some important data. It’s worth spending some time on.

Original Message Text

Transcript: Time Machine completed a verification of your backups on “Time Capsule”. To improve reliability, Time Machine must create a new backup for you.

Click Start New Backup to create a new backup. This will remove your existing backup history. This could take several hours.

Click Back Up Later to be reminded tomorrow. Time Machine won’t perform backups during this time.

My Version

Time Machine must create new backup for you. Fixed
Time Machine must create new backup for you. Fixed

Transcript: Time Machine has found a problem with your backups on “Time Capsule”. First backup any important files, then click Start New Backup. This will create a new backup and then delete the old one. This could take several hours and you will be at risk of data loss until it completes.

Click Back Up Later to be reminded tomorrow. Time Machine won’t perform backups during this time.

Notes

There are a few interesting things to point out here. As you are starting from scratch with the backup, you lose any old versions of files that Time Capsule had stored. It’s bad practice but some people will happily delete files from their computer, safe in the knowledge that Time Capsule has a copy. In that scenario, deleting the backup would be a disaster!

I still don’t know exactly what caused the problem with my Time Capsule backup, but since starting again I haven’t seen that message.

When Backups Go Bad

When Backups Go Bad
When Backups Go Bad

We often hear from people that have lost their data, despite having some sort of backup. It’s important to remember that your backup is no-longer a backup if it becomes the only copy of your data. We usually suggest having at least two forms of backup to cover this problem.

We recently revisited this topic.

Servers

An example of a failed backup strategy came recently. A user had one server, and at the end of every day would duplicate the whole server to another server. This is OK for some scenarios and gives you a day-old server ready to bring out if your main server fails. We would have also suggested a second backup routine to run at the same time to some other storage. Preferably an external drive, accessible from a standard computer.

The system worked fine for over a year, until server 1 failed one day. Instead of replacing the disks and then restoring from the backup, it was decided to reuse the original disks and then load them from the backup. They overwrote server 1 with the backup from server 2.

When the restore was complete, it was discovered that the data on server 2 was actually corrupt. This corrupt data had also been written back to server 1. The client ended up with two corrupt servers, and no good copies of the data. Worst case scenario.

You will often hear that deleted data isn’t really deleted. This is kind of true, but only until you overwrite the data with something else. By writing server 2’s data over server 1, that effectively overwrote the original data, and left no possible avenues of recovery.

RAID Mirrors

RAID Data Recovery
RAID Data Recovery

Another common problem we see is with external RAID cases like the Netgear ReadyNAS. These can be setup in a mirror mode which keeps the same data on both disks. Theoretically when one disk fails, the other can still be accessed. In reality the failed NAS will often end up in an unusable state where access to the data is not possible anyway. Even if you plug the hard drive directly into a PC, the NAS drives use a non-standard format so the data is not accessible.

Avoidance

The best way to avoid getting caught out by your backups is to never trust them. Be more paranoid. If you think you have a solid backup system then add another backup, just in case. Then next year add another. Most of the time it will seem irrelevant, but when your server and backup drives all get struck by lightning or end up flooded under six feet of water, you’ll be glad you spent the extra few pounds on an extra backup.

Extra Credit.

If you’re already using a Time Machine backup on your Mac then why not supplement that with a monthly whole-disk copy to a different drive. Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper! can take care of it. This also has the advantage of being instantly bootable in an emergency and can even be stored in a locked safe, or at a friends’s house.

Data Survival Guide Mac

Many hard drives we see have been more damaged by a failed recovery than they were in the first place. We have released the Data Survival Guide to help people avoid some of the common mistakes. This first version is for Mac users but we have more on the way.

Why not print this out and keep it in your laptop bag in case of emergency!

Data Survival Guide Mac
Data Survival Guide Mac

iPhone Restore After Data Recovery

iPhone Data Recovery
iPhone Data Recovery

When we recover iPhones, although we can usually provide the data in a computer-readable format, it is often easier to just load the data back onto another iPhone. Fortunately, as long as you restore the data in the correct order, you should get your iPhone up and running with your restored data.

Preparation

Before you attach the iPhone you need to make sure iTunes is ready for it. You need to put the recovered iPhone backup into the correct place for iTunes to find. Quit iTunes first.
The iPhone backups go into:

On a Mac:

Users/username/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup

Note: Since 10.7(Lion) this folder is hidden. Click here for more info.

On Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8:

 C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\

On Windows XP:

 C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data\Apple Computer\Mobile Sync\Backup

Now copy your iPhone backup folder from the recovered data to the backup folder on the computer. If you’ve ever made any iPhone backups they will be in this folder with long unreadable names of random numbers and letters. It doesn’t matter that you can’t read it, iTunes can. Don’t rename it!

So now your /MobileSync/Backup folder should look something like:

iPhone Backup Folder
iPhone Backup Folder

Remember that the string of numbers will not be the same.

Next you can launch iTunes and see if the iPhone backup is seen in the list. Within iTunes select Preferences and then the Devices tab (Image Below). If your backup file has been recognised then you should see the iPhone name in the list and the date of the backup. If not, go back and check that everything is in the right place.

iPhone Backup Preferences
iPhone Backup Preferences

Sign In

Next, it’s a good idea to sign in to the iTunes Store. If you’ve not used this computer with this iPhone before you may also need to authorise the computer to access your purchased apps and media. Once signed-in to the store you should choose the Store menu and select “Authorise This Computer…” Be aware that you can only authorise a set number of computers. (The limit can be reset if needed.)

Media

Now you can import the Music and apps into iTunes. Don’t worry if some of the apps don’t have icons yet.

Lets Go

Once all that is finished you are ready to connect the new iPhone. You will need to follow some on-screen prompts and settings, and then it will ask if you want to set it up as a new device, or restore it from a backup. This is where all that hard work pays off. Choose the backup, and let iTunes work its magic. It can take a while if you have lots to restore but when it’s finished your phone should boot into a familiar screen. Your Contacts, Messages, Calendars, Notes and lots of other data will be back in their respective apps.

If none of the other apps got transferred you can choose the Apps tab within iTunes and tick “Sync Apps.” You can then tick whichever apps you want to send to the iPhone.

Troubleshoot Buffalo External Hard Drive

Like most external hard drives, Buffalo external drives are simply a wrapper around a regular hard drive. Aside from the protective shell they also have some electronic parts to convert between the internal hard drive and the external USB, Firewire, eSATA or Thunderbolt connections.

If you have problems with an external drive, you can perform a relatively simple test to check where the fault lies. Be aware that opening the external drive case will probably void your warranty, and if there is crucial data on the drive you should seek professional data recovery. That’s the obligatory warning out the way, so lets have a look at some troubleshooting.

Troubleshooting tips.

  • First check all cables are plugged in securely, and not damaged or frayed near the ends.. If you have an identical drive with spare cables try them, but make sure you don’t plug in a power supply with different voltage! Hard drives don’t handle extra voltage well so you’ll end up in a worse position than you started.
  • If you know how, you could remove the hard drive from the external case and attach it directly to a PC to see if that allows access to the data. If it does, you should copy the data off straight away. The drive could still be faulty & fail again soon.
  • Whatever you do, don’t dismantle the actual hard drive. Hard drives are built in controlled clean-air environments and even the smallest spec of dust can cause permanent damage to the drive.
  • Since the introduction of unique ROM chips on the hard drives, it is often no longer possible to exchange circuit boards with another hard drive to access the data. In our experience circuit board problems are far less common than they used to be.

If you are looking for a data recovery service for your external hard drive then have a look at our external drive recovery services.

SSD Data Recovery

SSD Data Recovery
SSD Data Recovery

SSDs (Solid State Drives) may one day become the standard form of storage in computers. Apple laptops are already heading that way. There are certainly many advantages when comparing SSDs to HDDs (Hard Disk Drives), however they do bring their own problems, which are often not well reported. We don’t care how good SSDs can be. We care about how they fail. It’s common to hear things like: “I’m replacing my hard drive with an SSD so I won’t have to worry about it crashing again.” While this is technically true – there are no moving parts to crash – there are plenty of other ways an SSD can fail. Whether it’s technically crashed or not doesn’t matter at all when you can’t access your files. It’s a shame but an SSD does not get you out of the boring task of running regular backups.

There are some pros and cons which specifically affect data recovery from SSDs. I haven’t listed things like battery life or read / write speed as they are not relevant when it comes to recovering data from them.

SSD Data Recovery Pros:

  • Shock resistance. No moving parts to crash.
  • Just as susceptible to filesystem issues, deletion, reformatting, bad sectors etc which can be recovered using existing equipment.

SSD Cons:

  • False sense of security. The word reliable comes up a lot in SSD marketing with phrases like “More reliable, faster, and more durable than traditional magnetic hard drives.” Maybe research exists that shows SSDs are less prone to failure but it doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment. Anything that holds your valuable data runs the risk of getting drenched, getting stolen, getting lost, and that’s before we even take general failures into account.
  • Susceptible to electronic failure, Maybe more so than a hard drive as the storage and electronics are combined in SSDs. Some of the most common hard drive failures are caused by errors in the firmware which controls the performance of the drive. SSDs have very complex firmware, which opens the possibility of firmware corruption. In most cases firmware corruption will block access to your data.
  • Encryption. Most modern SSDs encrypt the data at a hardware level, which makes it impossible to remove data chips and extract data from them externally (you can do it, but the data is encrypted). The keys to the encryption are often stored within the controller chip, so if that fails, you could be locked out of your data for good. Modern encryption works well. You can’t get round it.
  • Wear-levelling algorithms. Which move the data around the SSDs to improve performance, can make recovery difficult as these algorithms would need to be taken into account when accessing a failed SSD. They don’t store data in logical order like hard drives do.

Our Apple Mac Data Migration Service

We have been offering Apple Mac Data Migration as a service for many years now. Here’s a quick reminder about this service which we call Mac Setup. You are bound to be over the moon when you are told that we have recovered your lost data, but in many cases this is only half the battle.

We wrote a detailed blog on the subject back in November 2011, but it still appears to trouble many customers.

We still often get the questions: “What do I do with the recovered data once I receive it?” and “How do I get the data back into it’s original places on my Mac?” For out-of-warranty Macs, this is where our Mac Setup comes into play. For a fixed cost we will provide you with a new installed hard drive, with all your recovered data migrated into it’s original locations, so that when you receive your Macintosh computer back, hey presto! it’s as if your Mac had never failed in the first place, everything up and running as it was.

iPhone Data Recovery – Obstacles

Hardware

iPhone Data Recovery
iPhone Data Recovery

When developing our iPhone data recovery process we had to make a few decisions about the devices we can support. The newer iPhones (4s +) are not accessible in the same way as older models.

With the iPhone 4 and below we can extract the data using a forensically clean process. What this means is that we can take the data off without writing anything to the NAND chips (storage) inside the iPhone. This fits in perfectly with our regular data recovery process as we never write data to a device we receive.

With the iPhone 4s, Apple changed the part of the system we use to access the iPhone’s memory. There is a chance that a new method of extraction for iPhone 4s will become available, but until it does we will not be recovering files from these devices.

Physical damage

iPhones store their data on NAND chips which are soldered to the main circuit board of the phone. The data can only be correctly decoded if we also have access to other parts of the circuit board, so it is crucial that the iPhone is electronically functional. If water damage has shorted the iPhone then we have no way to access the data externally. It’s not that it’s impossible, just that the work would be unreasonably expensive and time consuming.

Deleted Files

Another potential barrier for iPhone recovery is down to the way files are stored. Since iOS4 most files including iPhone camera photos and videos are encrypted before being written to storage, using unique encryption keys. This means every file ends up with a different header. When files are deleted there is nothing to distinguish a photograph from any other random collection of bytes.

Another problem with the file based encryption is that if you restore the iPhone using iTunes, those encryption keys get erased and new ones are generated. This prevents recovery of the old data, which is good for security but bad for data recovery.