Data Loss: The Golden Rules of what to do when you lose your data

It’s a scenario many of us are familiar with. We attempt to access some data only for the hard drive to crash. Perhaps the drive has emitted a strange noise, or perhaps we’re faced with the dreaded “blue screen of death”. Either way, we are faced with a situation of data loss that needs to be addressed.

Open hard driveUsually the first emotion we experience is one of panic. What should we do? Switch the machine off and hope that by switching it back on the problem will resolve itself? Leave it to cool down and hope that in half an hour it will be OK to switch it back on? Try and find a software utility that will enable access to the data? Google the problem you have experienced and see if you can find a solution on the web? Take the hard drive out, open it and see if you can see a problem?

In the nine years’ experience of running a data recovery company, we have found that many of our clients will attempt some or, in some cases, all of the above, before finally contacting us and asking for advice. We have used this experience to create the seven golden rules of what to do in a data loss situation:

1. Try not to panic

We’re starting with the hardest rule first! Whether someone has lost their wedding video, or the company accounts for the last five years, the initial reaction is to panic. It is important to try and stay calm; the fact is that in the majority of data loss cases, it is possible to fully or at least partly reconstruct the data. Panicking will only lead to poor decisions being made.

2. Power off the device

This is for the simple reason that if the device does not have power running to it, no further damage can occur to the data.

3. Don’t restart the device

Restarting a device with a malfunction is likely to compound the original data loss. This is particularly true if the read-write heads of the drive (an “arm” that hovers above the platters inside the disk) has crashed into the disks.

4. Don’t install new software, or reinstall existing software

Doing this can overwrite some of the data that you have lost, possibly rendering it unrecoverable.

5. Don’t open the disk

The internal mechanisms of hard drives are very delicate and extremely sensitive to motes of dust, temperature changes and air currents. In addition, if you open a drive you will almost certainly invalidate the manufacturer’s warranty. Data on disks sent in to data recovery companies that have been opened in someone’s house have often been rendered unrecoverable by this action. Disks should only be opened in a certified clean room.

6. Don’t use any auto recovery tools

Certain proprietorial tools often do more harm than good, especially if the file system is damaged. This is because they are trying to communicate with the disk through the language of the operating system (eg. Windows), which relies on trying to access the data that may be already damaged. Reputable data recovery companies use specialist hardware which bypasses the operating system and interacts with the disk by using the disk’s own command structure.

7. Speak to a reputable data recovery company

Do an internet search (on another computer) to find a data recovery company. It is advisable to ring several, and to bear in mind that the cheapest may not be the best choice. For example, companies that do not charge a diagnosis fee are liable to either put very little effort into diagnosing the problem, or to put hidden costs in the recovery fee. To ensure you are choosing the right company, ask a lot of questions to try and get a feel for their level of technical knowledge.

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