eBay Fake Capacity USB Sticks

Despite some amount of publicity, the problem of fake capacity flash drives being sold online has still not gone away. Recently we did a bit of consumer investigation and bought a few to test. Surely after two or three years eBay will have sorted this problem out?

eBay Fake Capacity USB Sticks

What Are Fake Capacity Flash Drives?

If you’ve not heard of these before, a fake capacity flash drive is simply a small low capacity flash drive pretending to have (much) more storage. The clever / devious part is that they may have only 16GB of real storage, but can appear to the computer as anything up to 2TB. You will be able to copy data to the device, but only the first 16GB may be readable later. Some devices constantly overwrite the same 16GB while other just dump the rest of the data into a back hole.

How Do I Know If My USB Drive is Fake?

There are not any strict rules, but you can start to build up a picture as you gather more information.

  1. Price – These flash drives will be WAY cheaper than anything you can buy in a retail store. We just bought 512GB flash drives for £10 and 1TB drives for £15. Currently a 64GB SD card is £32.48 at Novatech, so you can see how expensive real flash drives should be.
  2. Quality – Large capacity USB drives are relatively expensive. You’d expect them to be well made and probably well packaged. The fake drives usually come unbranded, in generic clear bags.
  3. Wording – Since these problems have been reported, some sellers are putting some disclaimers on the listings to suggest you should only use the devices for small amounts of data etc. This is obviously nonsense. If you buy a real 1TB of storage, you can use all 1TB.
  4. Testing – Although most people won’t be familiar with testing hardware, there are some pretty simple tools to test USB drives. They write patterns of data to the chosen device and then read it back again to make sure it was written correctly. USB Test Tool (It’s German, but also runs in English)

What To Do If You Have A Fake Capacity Flash Drive

Most online marketplaces like eBay have pretty robust buyer protection to allow you to claim a refund. The advice for making claims varies with each website so you may need to hunt around, or contact the site directly. Although eBay are more than happy to organise refunds, they show little interest in stopping the sale of these devices. We’ve spoken to eBay customer services a number of times and they said that their system will flag up if enough people make returns.

USB Stick

You Often Don’t Know Until It’s Too Late

It’s a bad idea to keep using one of these USBs. If you detect a fake capacity, you may think it’s OK to just use it for small amounts of data but it’s not a good idea. The problem is that as you use and delete files, you could gradually start edging towards the limit of the storage. The next file you write could just go into the black hole, and the data is lost. In fact, many people don’t realise their flash drive is a fake until they exceed the “genuine” part of the storage. If you were copying photographs to the USB drive, you might not notice that some of them are missing until you try to read them again much later.

Not Just Memory Sticks

These same types of fake flash drives also appear as SD cards so we’ve heard from people that were at weddings or on their honeymoon and lost all or most of the photos.

Fake eBay USB Drive Animation

Update 31-10-2016: Since posting this, we were made aware of this report from the USA about eBay’s problem with fake flash storage.

Broken USB Stick

USB Broken Connector Data Recovery

I had a call on Friday from a very distraught lady who had dropped her laptop with her USB stick still plugged in. Unfortunately the USB stick took the brunt of the impact and all her work was no longer accessible. She contacted us and I reassured her that although the device was broken, we have a good chance of getting the data back.

With time spent on the Broken USB Stick over the course of the day on Saturday, I was able to recover all of the data. I managed to get the data back to her on Sunday morning, so she could carry on working ready for the week ahead. I was also pleased to find out that the information on the USB stick was part of her charity work for people with special needs.

The customer was local to us in Portsmouth so I had the pleasure in handing the recovered data to her personally.

 

Easter Backup Tips

Easter Backup Tips

The long weekend is only hours away, so if you’ve got a few spare minutes over Easter, why not get your data in order & sort out some backups. Save yourself the dread of losing all your documents or photos, and then sit back and eat some chocolate eggs!

Simple Start

First, when people talk about backups, they actually mean just make copies of your files. It sounds obvious, but this is often misunderstood. If you have a few really important files, you can make a backup of them my copying them somewhere else. That could be a memory stick, SD card, CD, DVD, Dropbox, whatever. The important thing is when you’ve copied the file, do not delete the original. For a backup to be useful, it must be a copy of some data.

The Plan

If you want to take things a step further, you probably want a way to automate the backup process. That way, your computer keeps track of new & updated files, and you don’t need to think too much about it.

Step 1

You ideally want to have enough space in your main computer to hold all your important data. This may mean investing in a larger hard drive or SSD, but is by far the easiest way to stay safe. Now whenever you use the computer, you always store the files on the large internal disk. This means any backups you make can simply be copies of this main disk.

To sidetrack slightly, imagine if you instead stored photos on one external disk, documents on your laptop, and movies on another disk. This would be a nightmare to keep backed up, as you would constantly need to attach and reattach different disks.

Step 2

Now all your data is stored on the main disk inside your computer, backups are simple. On a Mac, point Time Machine at your external disk. On a PC, point Windows Backup to your external disk. Both will create a copy of your main disk, and then take care of scheduling future copies to keep you up to date.

Never store files manually onto the external disk, as you will lose them if the disk fails. Now, when you make new files on your computer they will eventually get backed up to your external disk too. Just remember to either keep it plugged in, or plug it in regularly to catch up.

Step 3

Once you have a single backup sorted, you might think of a few ways you could still end up losing data. For example, if the external disk is always plugged in, any spike through the power lines could kill off both disks in one go. It does happen, even if you have a surge protector! Also, what if there was a fire or flood. Both disks side by side could get damaged. Then there is also the risk of the computer and all the surrounding equipment being stolen.

Luckily, there are also ways to protect yourself here too. A simple way would be to use another external disk to make a backup, but then unplug it and store it in a safe somewhere. It could be in a family member’s house, or at work, or anywhere really. Ideally not in the same building as the other disks, to cut down the chances of all disks being lost at once.

There is another way to avoid the worry of storing another disk outside your house. Online backup. Sometimes known as cloud backup, online backups give you storage on a server somewhere, and a small program on your computer to send the data over. We’ve heard great things about Backblaze for online backups. Their ex-Apple engineers have created a really simple service, that’s super cheap with unlimited storage.

Done

So now, with your backup disk humming away on your desk, and your files beaming over to a Backblaze server online, you can relax and stop worrying about losing all your files.

If you’re reading this too late and have already lost data, get in touch and we’ll see if there’s any way to get it 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.

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.

What To Do With A Dropped Hard Drive

If there is data on the drive that you cannot afford to lose, then do not try to fix the drive yourself. I would also suggest that you do not even try to power it back on after it has been dropped, as this is what usually causes the most damage. Whether your drive is an external desktop drive or a small portable one, they all work in the same way. Broadly speaking the inside of a hard drive is a bit like a record player with a mechanical moving needle reading the vinyl record. I can remember the times when playing old vinyl records, once you got scratches on them they never really worked the same again.

So I recommend not to panic, decide on what the value of the lost data is to you. Sometimes it may not be money value but a sentimental one. Once you have decided, then carry out some research online and look at data recovery company reviews. From our experience with dropped drives, the amount of work involved in overcoming the problem would not be covered by the low initial cost that some data recovery companies advertise and therefore the cost would soon escalate.

There is always hope of recovering data from a dropped drive but as you have read, it depends on your actions as to the eventual outcome.

OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2: Data Recovery

OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2
OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2

This OWC external enclosure is a common sight on the desks of Mac users with big storage needs. It’s a pretty standard 4-bay box, styled somewhat like a cousin of a PowerMac G5 or 1st generation Mac Pro. Inside are the usual options of RAID 0 to RAID 5 with a few additions like JBOD & RAID 10 thrown in for good measure. There are a few variations of this device but the back panels commonly have USB, Firewire, and eSATA ports for direct connection to a PC or Mac. There is no ethernet port on these drives which makes the Qx2 a DAS (Direct Attached Storage) rather than NAS (Network Attached Storage).

Aside from massive name, the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2 also comes with a potentially huge amount of storage. Currently up to 32TB on the OWC store, but also available diskless or BYOD (Bring your own disks). With so much storage space, these drives often become the one and only repository for vast lumps of important data. The benefits of RAID give a false sense of security that the data is safe from drive failures. Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons why the RAID array alone will not protect from certain failures. Most of  these failures can be overcome by us in our workshop, but they are not one-button fixes. It is helpful to understand why a seemingly rock-solid platform can be even more risky than a simple external USB drive.

Redundancy

Under common settings, the Qx2 will use RAID 5 for the array. With four 2TB drives this gives you a 6TB volume on a Mac or ~5.5TB on a PC[1], and can cope with a single disk failure. There is a lot of debate about how good RAID 5 really is for such large drives[2]. In our example this means that if a single disk fails, it will need to be replaced, and then the new disk rebuilt with 2TB of data calculated from the other disks. This will take many hours, even under optimal conditions, but if anything goes wrong before it completes the array could stop showing up all together. At this stage, the data is probably recoverable but don’t panic. One wrong move and the data could be gone for good.

If the data is crucial then get assistance from a RAID recovery service now and you should get back all or most of the data.

If any disks are removed or replaced at this point the array could get reinitialised and either make the recovery more complicated or wipe the data completely.

Other Failures

Aside from all the problems with a RAID setup, the volume could also fail in the same ways that a standard hard drive can. There could be deleted files, a reformatted or corrupt partition, or even the RAID controller failure. RAID cannot protect against those types of failure at all.

Recovery

Our first step would be making read-only copies of each disk in the array. This protects against further disks failing, and also allows us to work from copies without risking the original disks. In fact, once the disks are copied, we put the originals to one side and don’t touch them again until all the data is recovered and supplied back to the user.

Once we have our copies, they are loaded into our own hardware where we recreate the RAID in a virtual environment. Again, we don’t use the original hardware, as that may have been the root cause of the problem.

When the virtual RAID has been loaded and all the data extracted, the files are supplied back on whatever alternative storage is suitable, (not the original device!) Once the data has been delivered to the user, and backups made, the old unit can then be destroyed, or returned and reused.

Avoidance

Anyone using RAID on a regular basis should know that RAID is not a replacement for backups. If anything, the increased number of disks makes failure more likely. This needs to be addressed by either making backups to another device, or an online service (preferably both). You ideally want backups that keep historic versions of the files, so that inadvertently deleting a file or changing a file by mistake will not also replace the backup version.

If you are having problems with an OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2, give us a call or send a message via the form on this page. We give free advice and could help you avoid permanent data loss.

1. Macs now use 1000 bytes for 1KB but PCs use 1024 bytes.

2. Even RAID 6 does not solve the long time required to rebuild a disk, even though it allows for two disk failures.

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.

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.