Data Recovery software - What you need to know
Where do you start when it comes to Data Recovery software?
Like most people probably a search on Google, which will return plenty of sponsored adverts and no doubt a long list of results offering Free Data Recovery Software.
Anything that is free is going to set off some alarm bells, but before we get into that discussion let’s have a look at when it’s safe to use data recovery software and when you should contact a professional data recovery service provider.
Should I use data recovery software?
There is no straight answer to that unfortunately. The main factors to consider are how the data loss occurred and what level of technical knowledge you have. You also need to consider how much data has been lost, how important that data is to you and if you want to take the risk of potentially losing it permanently.
Let’s break things down and look at the important issues.
Data recovery software limitations
Data recovery software will not be able to recovery data from a physically damaged hard drive. So if the device has been dropped or damaged in any way, switch it off, do not attempt to switch it back on and contact a data recovery professional immediately. If the drive is making any kind of noise out of the ordinary, a beeping, knocking or clicking noise, follow the above advice. Any further use could very quickly cause more damage, further data loss and possibly even prevent any data from being recovered.
Recovery software is very basic and limited to recovering data from a device in good physical working order, we refer to this type of recovery as a logical recovery. This type of software is designed to target deleted data and some formatting and partition errors and can only give very limited information and diagnostics regarding the physical condition of the device.
You could be making the problem worse
Even if a drive or device has not been physically damaged there may still be an underlying mechanical or electronic fault which has caused the problem. These types of faults are much harder to diagnose but could still lead to further data loss or device failure with continued use.
Basic software is not designed to work with a hard drive that may have physical faults such as surface damage or damaged read/write heads. Professional data recovery software is much better at recognising and dealing with these problems. For example it will recognise bad sectors on the disk and work around these, free or cheap software can cause further degradation by continually and repetitively trying to read these sectors.
Software installation could cause permanent data loss
Even deleted files are still often available for recovery, they are essentially marked as deleted and hidden from the user. These deleted files will eventually be overwritten when the system needs to use the disk space to store new information. Installing new software to your computer may actually write over your deleted data.
In addition to this, installing software onto a drive that may already be failing could make the existing problem worse or even cause the drive to fail permanently. Any continued use of the drive after physical damage has occurred hugely increases the risk to your data.
When you are not sure what has caused the problem
If you are not sure what caused the data loss or you are concerned there might be a physical fault with the drive, the best advice is to switch the device off and contact a data recovery specialist. It’s just not worth the risk.
The most obvious signs of serious problems are:
- The hard drive is making a clicking noise
- The hard drive is making a beeping noise
- The hard drive or device fails to power on
- You see corruption when you try to access files or cannot access them.
Recovery software is not a technical analysis tool
Data Recovery software will not tell you what the fault is and may not pick up technical errors.
In addition it may not deal with errors such as bad sectors correctly and in doing so make the problem worse. It could also completely miss data that may otherwise be recoverable.
Some of the paid software from reputable sources may provide SMART data which can give you some insights, but will still not diagnose the problem and attempt to use the best solution for the fault. This software will not pick up on:
- Corrupt firmware
- Damaged read/write heads
- Platter surface damage
- Head crashes
- Electronic failures
- Issues in the service area of the disk
Data recovery software that is not from a reputable vendor (whether free or paid) could contain malware, spyware or a virus. So if you do go down that route make sure you buy or download it from a reputable company and do your homework first. You might end losing even more data than you have already lost or find that the data is lost permanently. In a worst case scenario it could even compromise the operation and security of your PC/Laptop and your personal data.
Further limitations of Recovery software
We have already discussed the main limitations of the software, however it is really important to understand that most good data recovery companies do not just rely solely on recovery software for a huge proportion of the work they do. A human technical understanding of the problem and engineering skills and experience often means that more data can be recovered safely, with much less risk of a failed recovery and data loss.
Data recovery companies are constantly investing in hardware and software tools. This software is updated regularly with fixes for the latest models of devices. Hard drive technology is changing all the time so it is critical for this software to be continually updated. Along with this, in-house R&D provides new and innovative ways to retrieve data that might otherwise be lost.
This industry standard software works very differently. It effectively freezes any writing to the drive, it makes a copy of the entire drive at a low level and then works to recover the data against that copy. This gives the best possible advantage in getting the data in the event the drive does start to fail mid recovery.
- Free data recovery software may end up costing you your lost data and more. This may seem a little dramatic, but if you speak to any data recovery specialist they will give you the same advice.
- If you buy data recovery software from a reputable source, it will have limited functionality and is only really suited for situations where files have been deleted.
- If you do not know what the fault is with your device, do not attempt to use data recovery software on it, you could easily make the problem worse and your data unrecoverable.