Of all the unfortunate things that can happen to us in the course of using computers, data loss remains one of the most devastating and disheartening experiences to every computer user. It could be that final year project that you have spent sleepless nights working on; it could be those highly-cherished photos or those class notes you have gathered over time from course mates ahead of you – whatever it is, it is never a good experience losing data. Our devastation in the wake of data loss are often compounded due to the deep-ingrained notion that data recovery is a preserve of the computer gurus. However, with a little knowledge and understanding of how data storage and recovery work, it is something that you can do with minimal or no assistance from a professional.
In this article, I am going to demystify the concept of data storage and recovery and tell you what to do to reduce chances of losing your data and better still, what to do in the event that you accidentally lose your data.
Most of us often think that the very moment you delete data from a storage device, the data is quickly lost. This is a misconstrued notion and is never the case. Think of a library of over a million books. Take a scenario of there being no catalogue, whether manual or computerized catalogue. While the absence of a catalogue would make it near impossible for someone to access a particular book (unless they know the particular shelf where to find the book), it doesn’t change the fact that the books are still there. This is what actually happens when you delete data from a storage device. It is not really lost. It is the access path or the reference to them that is removed, the data technically remains intact till overwritten. Windows and other operating systems normally allocate what is usually termed as pointers or references to data (you could still see this as some door or gateway). These references will tell your computer where a particular file or folder is stored within the hard disk. So the moment you delete a file or folder, it is the pointer that is removed and the OS marks that sector as empty, but in actual sense it is still occupied by the data you have deleted. This explains the very reason why deleting, for instance, 5 GB of data is almost instantaneous yet the same amount of data requires some minutes to be written to a storage device.
There are a myriad of softwares that will bring back that pointer and enable you to retrieve the lost data, but if there is one company that rules the industry when it comes to data recovery solutions, it is Kroll Ontack. It will be interesting to note that this particular company was some time back able to recover 99% of the data from a hard disk taken from a disintegrated spaceship. Any data recovery software from this company will blow your mind at how effectively it works. I’ve personally used Ontrack Easy Recovery Enterprise in two instances. In the first case, I used it in recovering data from two deleted partitions in a friend’s laptop. The software managed to recover almost 90% of the lost data. The only file types that were not recovered were the .mkv file extensions. All the .mp3, .mp4, .jpeg, .png and all the documents (.docx and .pdf ) were all successfully recovered. In the second case, being a personal laptop, I was reluctant to recover the files (it was Local Disk C and most of the crucial files were in the other two partitions). I only attempted the data recovery process after a week. A good portion of the pictures was recovered, though some were not fully recovered. The video and audio files were recovered (though most incompletely)
Other data recovery software I would recommend include Wondershare Data Recovery, Recuva and TestDisk. I can go on to trot a longer list but no point, Ontrack Easy Recovery variants may be all you need. TestDisk stands out because it transverses almost all the available OS in the market.
What to do to reduce chances of data loss
- Safe hard-disk practices
Data loss is caused by any of the following reasons: accidental erasure, hard drives failure, corruption of data or power failure. The most common of these four remains hard drive failure and data corruption. It is therefore important to understand how this can be prevented in the first place. It would, therefore, be paramount for any computer user to understand how the hard disk works so you know what would impede its normal functioning. Avoid using your laptop near static electric fields. These are often found on stereo speakers and other home appliances such as TV sets. They can easily cause your hard disk to fail.Magnetic fields should also be avoided though I must state that their effect was salient in hard disk manufactured a few years ago. Today the manufacturers have found a way of increasing their level of tolerance to a demagnetizing effect on hard disks and therefore may not pose a huge threat. But as a precaution, I would rather you just avoid magnetic fields around your hard disks. Another thing you should avoid is undue pressure on them (especially for the external ones). You must also ensure your laptop’s cooling system is working well. The gist of it all is that you need to safeguard your hard disk against corruption.
- Avoid storing crucial data in Local Disk C
More often than not, when partitions become corrupted and fail (as long as it is logical) it is normally Local Disk C that is most affected. Same thing when the OS crashes; it is Local Disk C that is normally affected (though it would be important to note that in the event that happens, data is normally never lost. With Linux Live Boot and a good grasp of the command terminal, one can always move the data in Local Disk C to the other partitions before reinstalling an operating system). It is therefore highly advisable to reserve Local Disk C for installing programs and temporary files and folders. The very crucial documents should be stored in the other partitions.
- Back-up important data remotely
It is not enough to backup your data in the other partitions (at least for the very important data). Many a times people have lost their laptops that had all their data. So if you can afford an external storage device, you would do yourself good to buy one and backup the important data therein. You can also make use of cloud storage service providers like Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft One Drive.
What to do in the event of data loss
- Isolate the drive
I mentioned that even a simple thing as browsing can actually subvert the chances of recovering your lost data. You should therefore avoid using the partition with lost data at all if possible. Data is normally stored randomly in sectors and that is why even that cache in the tunes of a few megabytes will reduce the chances of salvaging your lost data. Such data will be recovered in parts and may turn out to be corrupt (they will fail to open). In the case of audio files, instead of the 8 minutes you expected, you may find a 1 minute audio. For picture file formats, you will see pictures as shown below.
- Act as fast as possible
I did give you two experiences in recovering data. In the second instance, I made two mistakes; installing programs in the same partition I intended to recover data from and continually using the partition before recovering data (failing to isolate it). It is therefore important to act almost immediately to avoid doing either of these.
- Consult an expert
Depending on the cause of data loss, it may need someone who has some understanding of data storage and recovery in order to do the recovery. Remember that a simple mistake of installing the data recovery software in the same partition you intend to recover data from will highly reduce the chances of data recovery. It also becomes complex if the loss was due to a hardware failure. In that case, it will require rebuilding some parts of the hard disk, something that must be done in dean rooms void of the minutest of pollutants. It then requires a professional with highly impressive technical skills.
What to do when recovering data
Basically, there are two major things to be done here;
First thing: Ensure you install the data recovery software in a different partition from the one you intend to recover data from.
Second thing: Ensure that you save the recovered data to a different location. Never should you save the data to the same partition. You would be overwriting the ones yet to be recovered. It would be akin to running on a treadmill without wanting to step on it (hope that analogy was apt). Most of the time, a secondary storage device or a network location would do if the space in the unaffected partitions is insufficient.
So next time you accidentally format that partition, don’t worry yourself. Isolate the partition and consult an expert if you are not tech-savvy enough to do it yourself.