Data Recovery: Physical Damage

No matter how powerful or advanced a storage device is, there is always a potential for physical damage corrupting the data it holds. Physical damage to a data storage device can come from a variety of sources, whether it be a fall or from water. Since it is so difficult to control the accidents that may damage a hard drive, most businesses live in constant fear of damage interrupting the flow of information. However, there are a number of things that can be done to help mitigate the damage that is done to data when a drive is physically damaged.

The Causes of Physical Hard Drive Damage

Physical damage can occur in a number of ways, which is why it is so difficult to protect data from. Impact damage and water damage are among the most common sources of impact damage, but there are internal mechanical failures that can lead to physical damage. For example, when a fan rotor becomes dislodged from inside the drive and damages internal components, this leads to physical damage. Physical damage can also occur when the drive is taken into either extreme hot or cold environments that cause the internal components to snap or melt.

Levels of Physical Damage

Physical damage comes at many different levels, and these levels play a major role in the level of work that needs to be done to recover the data. More often than naught, physical damage to hard drives will require the user to send the drive in for physical maintenance. Software data recovery options will generally never work on this type of damage. Even if the software recovery methods did work, certain types of physical damage would make it impossible to transfer the new image data to a new drive for storage.

The first stage of physical damage comes in the form of simple internal mechanical failures that render the drive unusable. In roughly 40 to 50 percent of cases, internal hardware replacement in a clean room environment will be enough to recover lost data. When fans or other little mechanisms break, they can rattle around inside the drive and cause damage to the actual disk drive. They can also make the drive itself inaccessible, even if the data itself isn't really very corrupted. In this first stage of physical damage, the data recovery process is fairly straightforward.

In the next stage of physical damage, the drive itself has become damaged by either heat, cold, impact or any other physical force. When the drive itself has become damaged, it can't simply be replaced with a new drive if the data is to be retained. Instead, these drives are looked at through highly-advanced microscopes that can look very closely at the layers of data on the disk. Even when a disk has been corrupted with bad code, that code has been overlain atop the older, original code. In a sense, that code still exists and can potentially be extracted if the data recovery technician can get a good read on it.

High-precision oscilloscopes can also be used to pull the original data out from underneath the corrupted lines of code. Oscilloscopes are a much less intensive process of data recovery than using the high-powered microscopes, but they are also not as accurate. This means that they can't be used in situations where the drive has taken on a significant amount of physical damage. In those cases, the drive is almost always sent off to the high-powered microscopes. Once the data is read by whatever machine is being used, it can then be transmitted to another drive and retained for future use.

Protecting Data from Physical Damage

There are a lot of different things that can cause physical damage to a hard drive, but there are some very common ones that all users should be aware of. By taking these things into account during the storage and use of drives, users will be much less likely to deal with physical damage issues that can corrupt their data.

First, drives should never be stored in full view of the sun, and adequate cooling systems should be installed. Overheating of drives during graphics-intensive gaming or multimedia rendering can lead to data loss. Liquid cooling is a preferred method of protecting against overheating, but appropriately strong fan systems can work well also.

Next, placing all external drives in hard cases or water-proof cases to protect them when not in use is useful. Most liquid-based damage to drives occurs at work stations when the drive is not in use, but it is sitting out. People spill a drink onto the drive, and then there are issues.

Finally, regular backups should be kept in case of a structural malfunction with a drive. This way, if the drive fails it won't permanently harm any data.