What do you need for data recovery?

Data recovery is the process of salvaging data from damaged, failed, corrupted, or inaccessible secondary storage media when it cannot be accessed normally. The data may still be present on the storage media but inaccessible due to logical damage to the file system or partition table, software malfunction, or physical damage to the storage media that prevents it from being accessed by the computer. Data recovery requires specific tools and techniques that depend on the type of data and damage involved.

Why is data recovery needed?

There are many reasons why data recovery may be necessary. The most common scenarios that require data recovery include:

  • Accidental deletion – Files or folders may be accidentally deleted and then require recovery.
  • Hard drive failure – A hard drive crash can make data inaccessible.
  • Ransomware attack – Malware that encrypts files will require decryption to recover data.
  • OS failure or corruption – An operating system not booting properly may require data recovery steps.
  • Natural disaster – Floods, fires or other events can damage storage media.
  • Accidental formatting – Drives or partitions may be formatted unintentionally, deleting data.

Data recovery allows the rescue of data that otherwise may have been permanently lost or inaccessible. It gives users a chance to recover from accidental data loss events and system failures.

What data recovery methods are available?

There are various data recovery techniques that can be utilized depending on the type of data loss that has occurred. Here are some of the most common data recovery methods:

Backup Recovery

If a current backup of the deleted, lost or inaccessible data exists, it can simply be restored from the backup media. This is the easiest data recovery method but relies on having a recent backup available.

Volume Shadow Copy

Operating systems like Windows create volume shadow copies automatically as a way to restore previous versions of files. This allows recovering older versions of data as long as the volume shadow copy exists.

RAID Recovery

RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) systems contain failover mechanisms that allow data on a failed drive to be reconstructed from parity data on the remaining drives. The drive must be replaced but no data should be lost.

File Carving

File carving analyzes the raw data on a drive and attempts to reconstruct files based on file signatures for known file types. This allows recovery of files even when the file system is corrupted.

Data Reconstruction

Data reconstruction techniques like destriping can be used on RAID systems with single disk failures. By using parity data on the functional drives, missing data can be reconstructed on to the replacement drive.

Repairing File System Errors

The file system metadata can be repaired using special tools, allowing data to be recovered. Examples include TestDisk for partition table recovery and CHKDSK for NTFS file system repair.

What types of data loss can be recovered from?

Data recovery techniques can potentially recover data from all types of storage media in situations ranging from minor data inconveniences to severe data loss catastrophes. Some examples include:

  • Deleted files – Files deleted from hard drives, solid state media, removable media or external storage can often be recovered.
  • Formatted drives – Data can be recovered from hard drives even after partitioning has been deleted and drives have been quick or full formatted.
  • Crashed drives – Data on non-booting crashed hard drives can be pulled off by copying the raw data to another functional drive.
  • Raid failures – Failed hard drives in RAID arrays can be replaced and data reconstructed automatically or through data recovery tools.
  • Removable media – Memory cards, USB drives, flash drives, optical media etc. can have data recovered if they fail or are damaged.
  • Mobile devices – Data recovery methods exist for recovering lost data from damaged mobile phones, tablets and other devices.
  • Virtual machines – Even data lost on virtual machines that fail can potentially be recovered by recovering the virtual disk files.

What are the different types of data recovery tools?

There are various software tools available that assist with different aspects of data recovery. The types of data recovery tools include:

Disk Imaging Tools

Disk imaging tools like ddrescue create full sector-by-sector images of drives. This allows read errors to be retried multiple times in order to image as much of a damaged drive as possible.

File Carving Tools

Data carving tools like PhotoRec scan drive images and reconstruct files based on file headers and footers. This allows recovering files even when the file system is corrupted.

File System Repair Tools

Tools like TestDisk can repair corrupted partition tables and boot sectors to regain access to partitions. Other file system repair tools exist for specific file systems like NTFS and FAT32.

Backup Recovery Tools

Tools tailored to a specific backup program allow restoring data from backup files and images. Examples include Veeam Recovery, CommVault Simpana and Symantec Backup Exec.

Raid Recovery Tools

Hardware RAID cards come with management utilities that can be used to recover failed drives and reconstruct data. Software raid tools also exist for recovering failed software RAID volumes.

What are the steps in the data recovery process?

Data recovery from failed or damaged media involves multiple phases. The high-level workflow for data recovery is:

  1. Imaging – The media is imaged sector-by-sector to preserve the data before any recovery efforts.
  2. Media evaluation – The type, extent and cause of the data loss is determined.
  3. File system repair – File system metadata is repaired if corrupted to regain partition access.
  4. Data extraction – Actual files are extracted from the media using carving, reconstruction or other recovery techniques.
  5. Data validation – Recovered data is checked to ensure it has been recovered intact without errors.

Specialized tools are used at each phase to assist with the data recovery process. The exact steps may vary based on the type of data loss that has occurred.

What aspects should you consider when choosing data recovery software tools?

There are many factors to consider when selecting the right data recovery tools. Some key aspects to evaluate include:

  • Supported media types – The tool should support recovering data from your specific storage media like hard drives, SSDs, optical media etc.
  • File system support – It should support repair and recovery for the file systems used by the media.
  • Recovery capabilities – Evaluate what data loss scenarios the tool supports – deletion, formatting, corruption, hardware failures etc.
  • Ease of use – The tool should allow guided workflows for imaging, file extraction and repair operations.
  • Additional features – Built-in capabilities like disk cloning, file wiping, imaging, storage reports etc. are beneficial.
  • Performance and speed – The tool should perform recovery operations quickly without delays or hanging.
  • Technical support – Good technical support to assist when encountering problems during recovery.

Choosing recovery software based on your specific needs and environment is key to successful data recovery operations.

What mistakes should be avoided during data recovery?

There are certain mistakes that must be avoided to allow the best chance of recovering data successfully. Some mistakes to avoid include:

  • Trying to recover data from the original failed media – This risks further data loss.
  • Opening recovered files before validating their integrity – Errors may exist in the recovered data.
  • Saving recovered data back to the original media – This may overwrite deleted data before it is recovered.
  • Using the incorrect carving signatures – Will lead to files carved incorrectly or not at all.
  • Assuming all data will be recovered – Some data may be unrecoverable depending on the damage.
  • Formatting or repartitioning media prior to recovery attempts – Causes irreversible data loss.
  • Leaving failed hard drives powered on – Risks disk heads scraping platter surface and destroying data.

Proper precautions like disk imaging, validating recovered files against the originals and using write protection during recovery avoids problems.

What are the most common hardware failures that require data recovery?

Hardware failures on various storage media are a major cause of severe data loss requiring recovery techniques. Some of the most common hardware failures include:

Hard Disk Drive Failures

Problems like head crashes, motor failures, burnt circuit boards or firmware issues can make hard drives inaccessible. Recovery involves imaging the drive and extracting data.

SSD Failures

SSD failures include flash memory errors, failed controllers, component problems, and failed firmware upgrades. Data recovery is challenging but possible in some cases.

RAID Array Failures

Failed disks, controller failures, chassis issues, and broken RAID configurations require RAID recovery methods to reconstruct array data and fix problems.

Removable Media Failures

Memory cards, USB flash drives, optical discs and other removable media can have failures due to wear, physical damage and general malfunctions requiring data recovery.

Mobile Device Failures

Damaged phones and tablets with screen, memory, power and motherboard issues require specialized mobile data recovery techniques.

Understanding the type of hardware damage or failure is important for selecting the proper data recovery methods.

What are some examples of software failures that lead to data loss?

Besides hardware issues, software problems and failures can also result in data loss:

  • Accidental file deletion – Files may be deleted and require undelete operations.
  • Formatting or repartitioning – Can delete partition tables and file system structures.
  • File system corruption – Hard reboot during an update may corrupt the operating system.
  • Virus or malware – Ransomware and other malicious software can damage files.
  • OS crash or inability to boot – Corrupted Windows or Linux installations may prevent booting.
  • Database corruption – Bad shutdown can corrupt database file structures and data.
  • Application faults – Bugs, crashes or hangs in apps may cause data damage.

Determining the cause of the software failure allows selecting the best recovery techniques to rescue data.

Why is it important not to write new data to a disk that requires data recovery?

It is extremely important not to write any new files or data to a disk that needs data recovery. Here are some key reasons:

  • Overwrites deleted file data – Making it unrecoverable by overwriting old deleted files’ data sectors.
  • Alters file system structures – File tables and structures may change with new writes.
  • Modifies drive contents – Changes disk contents that forensic analysis depends on for recovery.
  • Damages disk surface – New writes heighten chances of overwriting failed areas.
  • Interferes with carving – Adding new files creates insignificant data for carving tools.
  • Obscures root cause – New data hides evidence needed to determine original cause of data loss.

To maintain the best chances of recovery, disk imaging should be done before attempting data recovery procedures.

What role does disk imaging play in the data recovery process?

Disk imaging is a vital step that should be performed before any data recovery process. Imaging the disk preserves the data in its current state and avoids further modification of the failed disk. Key benefits of disk imaging include:

  • Prevents further data loss – Additional disk use risks damaging heads and platters.
  • Allows recovery testing – Tools and methods can be tested on the image without harming the original disk.
  • Enables analysis – Media can be analyzed to identify failure points and root cause.
  • Isolates failures – Access failures are contained within the image and not the source.
  • Allows repeat attempts – Carving, decoding and reconstruction can be repeated on the image.
  • Faster recovery – Analysis and recovery tasks are faster when done on the image.

Proper disk imaging is a prerequisite for improving the chances of successful data recovery from failed media.

What are some of the disadvantages and challenges of data recovery?

While data recovery can rescue data from failed media, there are some downsides and challenges:

  • No guarantee of success – The data may be unrecoverable if devices and platters are physically damaged.
  • Potentially expensive – Data recovery services can cost thousands of dollars with no upfront guarantee.
  • Time consuming – Reconstructing, carving and repairing data and file systems takes considerable time and effort.
  • Requires expertise – Proper recovery requires skilled personnel to prevent making errors that can worsen data loss.
  • Technically complex – Methods like disk imaging, file carving, RAID recovery and OS debugging require technical skill.
  • Risky process – Any interruption of an ongoing recovery process can render the data unrecoverable.
  • Outdated or nonexistent backups – Lack of recent valid backups makes recovery harder and less reliable.

Weighing the chances of recovery and the importance of the data against the time, costs and risks is key when considering data recovery.

What are some tips for preventing data loss and avoiding the need for recovery?

While data recovery allows recovering data after it is lost, it is better to avoid data loss in the first place. Some tips for preventing data loss include:

  • Take regular backups – Backups allow simple and fast data recovery in case of loss.
  • Use a UPS – An uninterrupted power supply prevents unexpected shutdowns during power loss.
  • Handle storage media carefully – Avoid physical damage of hard drives, SSDs, optical discs etc.
  • Manage drive health – Monitor SMART parameters and replace failing drives proactively.
  • Control drive temperatures – Excessive heat causes more wear and increases failure likelihood.
  • Keep clean work areas – Dust causes wear on drive components and should be avoided.
  • Install surge protection – Power spikes can damage electronics and destroy data.
  • Follow a disaster recovery plan – Have a documented plan for responding to catastrophic data loss.

Good data management practices greatly reduce the risk of catastrophic data loss requiring recovery.


Data recovery makes it possible to recover data from failed, damaged or inaccessible media when backups are unavailable. A variety of tools and techniques exist like file carving, file system repair, disk imaging, RAID recovery and backup restoration. Care must be taken to avoid mistakes and follow best practices when performing data recovery. While an expensive and complex process requiring expertise, data recovery can sometimes mean the difference between permanently losing data and being able to restore it.