It is an unavoidable fact of life that physical data storage has a lifespan. We’re constantly advised to back up our data multiple times, across a variety of media and store it in different places. After all, even hard drives are sold with Mean Time Between Failures rating.
Data loss can affect anyone
Very often, recoverable data is lost by users attempting to repair or recover data themselves, resulting in permanent data loss. It can be very tempting to ask a Windows prompt to attempt to repair a file system or a file. I mean why else would Microsoft have built this feature in if it wasn’t with the best of intentions?
I personally experienced this very situation in early 2014 when my hard drive experienced some problems in booting up. After taking a while longer than normal it presented me with a prompt to perform a system file repair, which, against everything I’ve learnt working for a data recovery company (albeit in marketing), I said yes. Needless to say in around five or ten minutes later I was speaking with a very annoyed yet diplomatic IT support colleague who informed me that I’d just kissed my very personalised Windows 7 installation good bye. There wasn’t even any point in walking 20 metres and getting our data recovery engineers involved – the data was gone.
SCAN – Stop, Check (for danger), Ascertain, Notify
This personal experience, along with the thousands we hear about every month, gave us the idea to put together a simple acronym to help everyday computer and mobile device users retain their data, or the ability to recover their data, when something goes wrong. It is designed to be simple to remember and to execute, especially when stress levels run high.
This is the most critical of all of the steps. As soon as you suspect data loss, you must stop what you are doing as it is extremely likely that any further action can cause data loss.
I’m not kidding with this, the risk is very real. For example, often data may appear to be ‘deleted’ but it still exists, only the index to the data is broken. Think of it like this: if you delete a library book from a library catalogue the library book is still there. And in the case of digital storage, the physical space that the library book takes up on a shelf is now ‘available’ for a new book, i.e. data, to be put in its place. In these cases, this is why it is critical to stop using the device as any new data written to storage – and this can be as simple as the log files from a file search or history of an internet search – could be written over the ‘deleted’ data you are trying to recover. In these situations data recovery software would most likely be the solution, do not install it to the affected media. Instead install it to another drive/device and scan the affected device from there. In fact, even trying too hard with data recovery software can still have a negative effect.
Check (for danger)
When a data loss occurs, there may be times when there will be a physical risk to yourself, others or the data itself if it is physically accessed. This is especially true in the case of physical damage, such as a fire or flood.
Obviously, you don’t want to put yourself or other people at risk when trying to access where data is physically stored. So use your common sense and get clearance from emergency services if necessary when accessing damaged storage devices.
Of course, for some data loss situations the check for danger stage may not be relevant though it is important to keep it in mind for the situations where it is relevant.
Once you have secured your data storage device, or even beforehand, you should record as many details as possible about the storage device and the data loss situation. For example, ask yourself:
- What happened before the data loss?
- Did you see any alerts or notifications?
- Hear, see or smell anything unusual?
- What is the make and model of the device?
- What type of data was stored on the device?
- How critical is the data stored on the device?
- How many people does it affect?
By gathering as much detail as possible about the device and what happened, the technical support engineer or data loss consultant will be best equipped to efficiently diagnose the problem, and you’ll have a better idea of the data recovery’s urgency.
Once your data storage system has been safely secured and removed from use, and you have collected details about the device and the data loss you are ready to notify an expert.
Your expert may be different to others, but generally it will be one of the following:
- Your IT department or IT support provider
- A friend or relative who works with, or takes a significant interest in computers and technology (though see the important note below)
- A reputable data recovery company, like Kroll Ontrack
Alternatively, for single drive devices, you could consult our Data Recovery Self-Assessment Tool – free to use and doesn’t require you to share any personal information to receive customised recommendations.
Important Note: it is crucial to point out, especially when your friend or relative is your expert, that they may have significant expertise in comparison to yourself, but they may still not have adequate expertise in relation to a trained IT support or data recovery professional. As such, you should still try the data recovery self-assessment tool or speak to an IT technical support person or reputable data recovery company. We, like all reputable data recovery companies, offer a phone consultation for free – don’t wait until it is too late!
How to SCAN
I recommend that you familiarise yourself and your family members/colleagues with the acronym SCAN so you’re prepared if you should even experience a data loss. Feel free to print out the infographic and place it around your home or office as a quick reminder.
By following this procedure when you suspect a data loss, you should be better equipped to save your data and get back up and running quicker.