You wake up one morning and start prepping for work. You grab your coffee, your laptop and you’re out the door. Once at work, you pull out your computer, turn it on, and… wait, it’s not starting up. “It was working fine just last night!” you think to yourself. You instantly begin to freak out, you have an important presentation today and you only have one copy of the file. You think it’s gone forever. Or, maybe not. There’s good news, it might just be recoverable.
Well let’s start off with the basics. Where is data stored? What could’ve caused you to lose your data?
All your documents, files, photos, music and various other data are mainly stored on the hard disk drive or HDD. If anything happens to your computer, that’s the first place to check.
Now there are several different reasons for data to become inaccessible:
- Hard Drive Failure
- Indeterminate failure
- Motherboard Failure
- Other internal component failure
- Power source failure
- Malicious attacks (Malware / Ransomware & Viruses)
- Human error
Most Common Hardware Problems
Human Error, Natural Disaster, Physical/Liquid Damage
In terms of human error a file may have been accidentally deleted (or on purpose, no judgment), hidden or moved by yourself, someone else, or your computer. Oftentimes it’s as simple as locating the file using the search function or locating it in the Recycle Bin and restoring it. Other times, you may have to look at previously saved versions of the document. Natural disaster or other damage is fairly self-explanatory. The possibility of data being recovered from something as potentially severe as this will all depend on if the hard drive itself was physically damaged (smashed, cracked, or liquid had gotten to it).
Hardware / System Malfuntion
This usually means something involving your computer itself stops working for a variety of reasons; motherboard overheating, hard drive failing, or LCD screen just not displaying anything to name a few.
Software Related Corruption - Viruses & Malware
Sometimes software can malfunction just as physical hardware can. This can cause corruption in the software or its files by a bug, a defect or simply that the software is outdated.
In other cases, it could be something more malicious such as a virus, malware or ransomware. Unfortunately there are people out there who create viruses and malware with the intent of getting personal information, or financial gain. and in today’s world, it’s not only received by downloads, they can also be received through emails. The attackers use emails that look like a legitimate service you use such as Google or Facebook just to name a few.
Unfortunately, there’s some bad in the world and by bad we mean deviants seeking out to steal your data. A computer may be infected with a virus or malicious software through an inconspicuously downloaded item, a strange e-mail, or a random pop-up from an everyday site you come across. Malware can spread like wildfire through your computer, often causing complete or partial damage by consuming and destroying data it infects.
Now onto the big question. How can data be recovered?
Recovering data may not be as simple as restoring a deleted file from the Recycle Bin or locating a hidden file on another part of the computer using the search function. In worst case scenario, it may be more complicated requiring an expert technician to use special tools and programs to recover data by opening, physically cleaning, and replacing parts in which the hard drive may only be partially recoverable.
Several factors come into play determining in how recoverable a hard drive may be; what caused the data loss, if physical damage what kind, the extent of said damage, what parts may need to replace if at all. Damage can be external, or internal and hidden from view. You may have dropped your hard drive a time or two and think it’s alright, however there could be significant internal damage, which in that case is best to get looked at. Just as you may have taken a fall, see no immediate damage but suffer from a broken bone.
A typical hard disk drive contains many small parts and pieces that work together to create to read and store data. Two major components in this is the platter and head(s). The platter is the rotating disk that is powered by a small, albeit powerful, motor. This motor rapidly spins and creates a cushion of air that allows the head to gracefully “fly” above the platter surface. As the head flies along the platter, it’s locating, reading, and storing data within the hard drive. All without touching it. However, the slightest bump or jolt may cause the head to “crash” into the disk and create a defect such as a scratch. At this time the drive will continue to function as normal for a while. When a hard drive is not in usage, the heads are “parked.” In spite of the fact that they are secured, a jolt intense enough may still cause damage to them and generate the same effect. Although with continued usage this scratch may turn into grooves (known as cascading failure), further causing deeper damage by allowing small particles from the scratching (think of it as sharpening a knife, with small bits of metal flying about) to contaminate other parts and may eventually render the data unrecoverable.
In the event of any accidental fall, drop or other damage, you should immediately turn off your laptop/HDD and set it aside to be examined. This will help prevent any additional damage. As a general rule there are higher chances of recovery the sooner you have the drive looked at by a Data Recovery team. The more usage, the lesser chance of recovery. If the external damage is caught earlier enough, an expert may be able to retrieve a majority of the data using specialized programs to locate and transfer from the damaged hard drive onto another without much data loss. The deeper the damage, it may only result in a partial recovery meaning only some data will be able to be retrieved. It may sound disappointing, but some is better than none.
In terms of internal damage, there may be corrosion caused by liquids, contamination, or burned from overheating. Corrosion is a process in which metal begins to deteriorate through chemical reactions with their environment (in simple terms, think of rust). This occurs naturally over time, but can very easily be accelerated by liquids. If liquids have come into contact with the HDD it is NOT recommended to dry it yourself, this WILL lead to further damage and impossible to recover. In fact, it is best to keep the hard drive wet until you can see a data recovery specialist (which should be ASAP) as it greatly decreases the chances of the hard drive from immediately corroding. Time is of the essence in terms of liquid damage.
When small particles such as dust, dirt or any other debris enter the sensitive components of a HDD, this is considered contamination. HDDs are air-tight sealed to prevent dust from entering, as every component is extremely sensitive. Any bit of dust that may land on a head can and will cause scratches on the platter. When this occurs, the HDD needs to be opened in a clean room. Using specialized tools, the HDD will be attempted to be very carefully and extensively cleaned. Although recovery is possible, the chances are significantly less than most other damage.
A burned component of a hard drive is typically caused by improper cooling. When your computer is on and running, a small fan inside creates airflow greatly cools down the heat generated by the motors and moving parts to allow them to work at peak performance. When that fan stops working or the vent is simply blocked, proper airflow doesn’t get to the moving components and they begin to overwork themselves and eventually, literally, burn out. As with most other damage, depending on the part that is affected, it may simply need to be replaced to allow the HDD to continue running or to allow data to be transferred. In an incident of a HDD catching on fire, the case is fairly durable which thankfully still allows for recovery to remain possible by simply removing the casing and cleaning the components.
The Bottom Line
All-in-all, a general rule is if the hard drive is making ANY sort of noise to get it checked out ASAP. This generally means something is damaged and hitting one another. Hard drives are designed to be silent.
Luckily with data loss in terms of software corruption or as a result of malware, it’s much simpler. First step would be to run an anti-virus software to remove any form of malware from your computer, locate, and restore hidden backups of files lost. If software used to store data is corrupted, its possible you may just need to reinstall the program or locate previously saved versions of the data in hopes to access your files. Worst case scenario, data recovery experts utilize a specialized program to inspect every segment of a hard drive to collect and reform the data to make it accessible again.
Please note: The task of trying to recover data or even opening the hard drive to take a look yourself is extremely risky and reduces the likelihood of data being recoverable. Something as small minute as a draft of air, or oils from your fingers can cause damage. This is why a hard drive should only ever be opened by a professional in a clean room with the right tools.
Don’t be discouraged if your hard drive fails, there’s usually a pretty good chance of recovering lost data. Of course, this all seems very intimidating and many things can go wrong. Luckily, there are several ways to greatly prevent data loss:
- Invest in cloud storage for backups
- Perform disk defragmentation regularly
- Utilize an anti-virus software (We recommend RDM-MSP RMM tool)
- Keep your computer clean, cool, safe and dry
- Allow for proper ventilation
If you’re worried about your hard drive having possible damage or inability to access data on you hard drive contact us. We are more than happy to consult with you about the options available to retrieving your data if you are ever in need.