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How Data is Recovered from a Hard Drive

Most people act like they are immune to data loss. We all have a friend who lost everything when their hard drive crashed, but we assume that we will never go through this process. Unfortunately, statistically we are a lot more vulnerable to these misfortunes than we’d like to think.

guy screaming

A recent study published by Carnegie Melon found that around 20% of mechanical drives fail within their first four years. Just over 5% fail within their first eighteen months. Despite the prevalence of this problem, people don’t back up their data, allowing for data recovery businesses to earn a living (at least until cloud backup becomes the norm).

If you ever find yourself in the dead-hard-drive-with-no-back-up situation, here’s a little information about that service you’re shelling out so much money for:

Operating on a Hard Drive

Once your drive has been diagnosed and handed over to the experts, the recovery process is set in motion. There are many paths to data recovery, but which one the lab team takes depends on what went wrong with your drive.

Many failures are caused by physical damage, meaning data recovery can only be facilitated by physically repairing the drive. Most likely some parts of your drive are going to need to be replaced, which could necessitate ordering them through a third party company or just finding them on eBay.

hard drive surgury

Once the parts have been obtained, the surgery begins. read/write heads, adaptors, and other malfunctioning hard drive components have to be replaced inside a “clean workstation,” which generally involves using a glass case with a fan that blows any dust into the air and another fan that sucks all that air out. This is a crucial piece of equipment to have, because even the tiniest speck of dust that falls on an open hard drive can cause it to malfunction.

If an electronic aspect of the drive is responsible for its failure, technicians may need to use microscopes and specialized soldering equipment to make tiny repairs to your hardware. This process has only become more difficult as technology has gotten smaller and smaller.

Once the drive is functional, it must be imaged. A clone of the drive is created for as many of the drive’s sectors as possible so that lab techs can move through them and focus on whatever necessary data that they contain. Different algorithms can be applied to the sectors depending on how damaged the data is in each one, allowing for the undamaged data to be speedily recovered and the damaged data to be better isolated.

When recovery is finally complete, the data is uploaded to a secure server that is not connected to the internet. Data is returned to the customer on a physical drive and the crisis is over.

So there you have it; if and when you lose all your data, there are things you can do to recover. That said, there are plenty of free cloud services that are probably worth some research.