Do-It-Yourself Data Recovery

November 12, 2020 by No Comments

Doing things yourself is a rewarding concept.  Nothing feels better than getting the job done.  Now days with the HG channel, YouTube and some home remodeling websites, even the most novice can practically remodel a bathroom on their own.  However, this does not apply to all industries, and data recovery is definitely not one of those industries.

When a user has suffered a hard drive failure, and has lost all access to their data, often a bit of panic and a loss of rational thought ensues.  In many cases an entire business may be at stake, or there may be 10 years worth of digital photos that have been lost.  The steps you take following a hard drive crash can be the difference between getting your data back and losing it forever.

There are a few, I guess you would call them, hardcore data recovery message boards out there.  I don’t participate in them, but I do lurk quite often. These are places where ideas and information flow freely amongst individuals within the industry.  The industry as a whole is severely fragmented.  We don’t work together like people do in other industries.  There is no real sharing of technology or information, so these message boards are really the only place to do that.  What is disturbing is that we are finding more and more posts where people are asking how to perform some very significant data recovery services on their own.  People are asking things like how to do their own headswap on a 500GB Western Digital hard drive…..these drives sometimes make ME sweat bullets when I get them in for recovery, so I can’t imagine anyone just giving it a shot with any expectation of success. On most of these message boards the first words coming from those with any knowledge of this type of work is “send it to a pro”, but more and more we are seeing people who just refuse to do that. I believe many think this industry is some sort of scam, but there is a reason it costs so much to recover data, and when you try to do it yourself or you send it to some guy who says he can do it for $199, you’ll find out what that reason is.

With the wealth of information available on the Internet, coupled with videos showing the process, it’s no wonder we have seen so many more drives coming in with significantly more complicated issues than just a simple head crash.  Now, I will confess, my company is one of the few data recovery providers with a couple of videos on YouTube actually showing a full recovery on both a laptop and desktop hard drive.  Both of these videos were shot within our clean room environment, and show much of the process.  We did this for two reasons, and neither one of them is meant to be a “how to” guide.  We simply wanted to share with our customers what it is we do, because many people are curious and actually have a completely wrong idea about the process.  The other reason was to differentiate ourselves from the other companies that may have a flashy website but don’t actually do their own recovery work.  We want our customers to feel confident that we are the real deal.  Unfortunately I get at least 4 or 5 emails a week from people basically saying thanks for the video, because now they feel like they can attempt to do their own recovery.  What they don’t take into consideration is, those videos completely edit out our process for unloading, reloading, and aligning heads, not to mention the fact that a good deal of experience is required.  Just following what is in those videos will do nothing but cause your data to be completely unrecoverable.

As this trend of “do-it-yourself data recovery” grows, so do the cases we get in that are simply unrecoverable. We get more and more drives in these days where the platters are covered in finger prints, the heads are grotesquely bent, or incompatible electronics are affixed to the drive.  Even if you don’t attempt the recovery work yourself, you MUST be careful about who you take your drive to initially.  Just because some big-box retail giant sells computers and has some nerdy looking guys behind the counter with white shirts and black neckties, does not mean they know what they are doing when it comes to data recovery.  Just because a big retailer or computer service center advertises that they do “data recovery”, does not mean they actually do.  At best they have some commercially available software for simple recovery work, but even that can be easily done wrong.  We’ve had 4 jobs come in recently that ended up being unrecoverable because just such a place had technicians that were willing to gamble with the customer’s data.  It’s actually something that angers me.  I wouldn’t care if my company received another drive ever, as long as these retail store “data recovery pro’s” don’t lose another person’s critical data because of their carelessness.

In closing, many users get exactly what they should expect from do-it-yourself data recovery, and that is a total loss of data.  If data recovery is out of your price range today, and the data is not time-sensitive, simply put the drive on a shelf and save up the money until you can send it to a reputable company.  Most companies don’t charge anything if the data is unrecoverable, so either way you’re either going to get your data back and pay, or you don’t get it back and your not out any real expense.  Just do some research first.  If you put a little time in learning more about the companies offering this type of work, you’ll save yourself a lot of headache later.  Find out if they have their own clean room or do they outsource recovery work, do they have the ability to work at the system area level of the drive.  These are just the very basics that any data recovery company should have.

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