If you use a computer regularly, you’ve probably lost — or nearly lost — important data at some point. Data loss can happen for a whole host of reasons, from a mistaken overwrite to a lost thumb drive to a malicious cyber attack to a crashed terminal or server. Regardless of how it happens, it’s always a frustrating experience.
Fortunately, it’s actually a lot harder to lose stored data than you think. Data recovery isn’t some a fantasy. In many cases, it’s possible and not that complicated. Let’s take a quick look at the mechanics of data recovery, the situations in which data recovery is and isn’t possible, and the tactics experts employ to get files back to their rightful owners.
Some seemingly intractable data loss scenarios actually aren’t that scary. Here are a few common situations in which data that at first glance appears gone forever can be recovered easily and cost effectively:
- A mistaken file deletion or overwrite (human error)
- An apparent file deletion or transfer due to a known virus or malware
- A total or partial hard drive “wipe”
In all of these situations, it’s possible to recover most or all deleted files in their original condition.
Scenarios in Which Data Recovery Is More Difficult
Some data-loss scenarios are more difficult to recover from. Data recovery isn’t impossible in these situations, but the likelihood of a full, faithful recovery is lower:
- Physical corruption of magnetic storage devices
- Hard drive or removable drive exposure to excessive heat, fire or explosion
- Hard drive or removable drive exposure to water damage or flooding
- Forcible impacts, such as falls from a great height or blunt trauma strikes
These situations are more serious because physically corrupted storage media may no longer be capable of holding or retrieving data.
Tried and True Data Recovery Tips
Although every data-loss situation is different, follow these basic tips for DIY data recovery following a “recoverable” scenario:
- Make sure nothing else is written over the damaged or lost media
- Boot up your computer from DOS and use a DOS-compatible file recovery program
- Transfer the damaged media to another computer and attempt a recovery program there
- Download a free file recovery program (if you don’t have access to a DOS program)
Don’t Be Afraid to Call in the Experts
“Modern businesses run on good data practices,” says George Otte, a Miami entrepreneur with more than a decade of experience in computer repair and data recovery. “Whether you’re an executive at a multinational company, a budget-conscious small business owner, or an independent professional who relies on technology to get the job done, you can’t afford to lose mission-critical files.” The same goes for consumers and “recreational end-users,” Otte is quick to add.
The bottom line is that there’s no shame in calling in an expert when something important goes missing, or when a mishap threatens your IT ecosystem. Possible data loss is scary enough, and not having a proactive response will only make things worse.