Philip Bridge, President at Ontrack

Keeping memories alive

Philip Bridge, President at Ontrack offers some important tips on how to prevent the loss of important data on PCs and laptops

Data loss is any process that results in your stored data being deleted, corrupted or made unreadable. It can be caused either intentionally or unintentionally and can occur due to a variety of reasons, but the most common are a logical failure, accidental deletion, malware/ransomware attack or physically damaged media. The sad reality is that you’d have a tough time nowadays finding a person who’s never experienced data loss. We’ve all known that sinking feeling when a power cut or crash sends an unsaved word document spinning into the void, or when an Internet connection cuts out and a web page full of forms is wiped blank.

The loss of personal photos, movies, music or files can be extremely stressful for consumers. Unfortunately, the subject of data recovery is a technical one and often comes hand in hand with complicated jargon. We’ve seen many different data loss situations over the years, including ones where recovery is no longer possible because DIY efforts by the user have ended up causing more damage. So, what should users do?

Power off
Don’t be tempted to simply turn the PC or device off and on again. If you suspect you’ve lost data, it’s best to power off the system immediately and refrain from turning it on again – then seek professional help. Even when the device seems to be sitting idle, it is continually writing data and has the potential to overwrite the data that’s been lost or deleted. Even seemingly small tasks such as browsing the Internet and checking emails can make the situation worse and hinder data recovery efforts.

Don’t take chances
Attempting data recovery at home is possible – especially with reputable data recovery software – but it must be remembered that there is usually only one chance for data recovery. It can, though, be a real help in situations where you’ve got external storage (USB hard drive, SD card, etc.) and have accidentally deleted data or formatted the device. However, please do not use the data recovery software on the same system that has lost the data, as this will write more data to the drive and could quickly destroy lost or deleted files by overwriting them. Also, refrain from any DIY software method if you suspect the drive is physically damaged.

Keep it closed
A quick online search brings up many DIY video guides with a lot of views claiming they can show how to open a hard drive and fix problems like ‘buzzing’ and ‘clicking’ noises, which are usually signs of physical failures. However, be warned: opening the hard drive outside of a cleanroom environment can cause irreparable damage to the data. Hard drives are delicate, complex devices and having a great deal of precision and experience is a requirement to recover data from them. It’s always best to call in the experts rather than cutting corners and risk losing the data permanently.

Step back from the freezer
There is an old but recurring myth that putting a broken hard drive in a freezer will bring it back to life. Believe us when we tell you, it doesn’t work and is an extremely bad idea! When you take the drive out of the freezer, it will start returning to room temperature, and in doing so, condensation will begin to appear both inside and outside the drive. The water will cause significant damage to the drive.

Prevention is always better than a cure. The best solution to ensure you protect yourself from data loss is to have a timely backup. The 3-2-1 backup rule is a viable method for all to implement. The idea is that valuable data should be stored on three different systems. The first is the one the user uses daily, e.g. a laptop. The other two are backups, e.g. an external hard drive or the cloud. A three-time data storage statistically minimises data loss. Suppose the data is saved to disk one and backed up to disk two. If the failure probability of disk one and disk two is 1/100, the probability of simultaneous failure of both drives is 1/100 x 1/100 or 1/10,000. With three backups, the probability decreases to one in a million.

You may think that using the 3-2-1 backup rule seems over the top, but when it comes to important data and memories is it worth the risk not to?

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