Data Recovery Techniques

When data is corrupted, it can have many negative impacts on a home computer, but these types of losses are felt most negatively by businesses. Data loss can be a catastrophic problem for businesses when their important tax, legal or other financial data is lost. To help protect data, most businesses maintain a redundant backup of their most important data. However, this is not always possible for businesses with a limited budget, or who are understaffed and can't maintain these backups. This is where data recovery experts come into the equation, and they generally use two major overall techniques for data recovery.

Data Recovery Using Software

One of the first techniques a data recovery specialist will attempt to use will involve the use of software. Data recovery software comes in many forms, and it is often used first because it can also be used remotely in many cases. When logical corruption has damaged the data on a hard drive or other storage device, it can often be handled remotely. This remote recovery is often the most cost effective solution for the person hiring the specialist, and the least labor-intensive for the specialists themselves.

There is not just one type of software used for any given data recovery situation. They are often used one after another, since they all do their own part of the overall work to recover the data that has been lost. For example, the Gutmann Method of data recovery utilizes a number of different pieces of software to recover data. Different amounts of damage will require different amounts of software, which involves more intensive work. While the software is designed to find fragmented data or perhaps fragments of previously backed-up data, the truth is that they can only recover so much.

Data Recovery Using Machines

When software recovery is either not available or the damage is too extensive, the drive can be sent out for physical data recovery. These data recovery facilities utilize very specialized hardware to find, copy and restore data from severely damaged hard drives. The facilities that offer these services are often bound by very strict confidentiality agreements. This, coupled with the highly-advanced hardware, make these physical data recovery techniques expensive.

One of the most common first steps in this technique is to replace parts from the hard drive in a clean-room environment. It has been noted that hard drive part replacement has been successful in aiding data recovery in between 40 and 50 percent of all cases.

Next, machinery can be used to aid the recovery process. The corrupted data can be run through a high-quality digital sampling oscilloscope to help read the information. As the data is overwritten or corrupted, the code from that data is overwritten by another "layer" of information. This oscilloscope can usually read this corrupted code and output the code in its original context.

When the high-quality digital sampling oscilloscope is not enough, the facility will sometimes move on to scanning probe microscopy. Scanning probe microscopy uses a high-powered microscope to look at the hard drive surface at the atomic level. By getting this close to the surface of the disk, this technique can see changes in data that could perhaps go unnoticed by the oscilloscope. This can help the data recovery technicians to see previous versions of the data, thereby retaining what was once there. This method is highly involved, and it requires the use of highly-expensive machinery. It is often used in forensic data recovery, especially when a hard drive has been wiped with a high-powered magnet. When this is not enough, magnetic force microscopy is used.

Choosing one Technique Over Another

While these techniques may seem abstract to the person who needs data recovered, the truth is that they both have very real cost differences. Since software-based data recovery techniques can often be done remotely, they are often less expensive. There are also a number of consumer-grade data recovery software options that may be useful in some situations. However, physical hard drive data recovery will require significantly more labor and significantly more expensive machinery. This is a big part of why this type of data recovery is so expensive. However, despite that expense, it is also much more successful with the recovery of usable data.

When a business or individual is deciding on which of these techniques to pursue, they have to consider the importance of the data. They also have to consider the extent to which it has been damaged. Finally, they need to consider the costs to them if that data is never recovered. When data loss can end up costing a business owner more than the cost of the recovery process, it's often best to opt for the recovery process. While no method of data recovery is 100 percent perfect, it's almost always possible to save at least a small part of the data.