08:02 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme

When Good Intentioned Users Do Harm

Minneapolis-based data recovery and forensic software maker Kroll Ontrack published a list of what the company estimates to be some of most common mistakes end users make when trying to save data from a failing drive.

Minneapolis-based data recovery and forensic software maker Kroll Ontrack published a list of what the company estimates to be some of most common mistakes end users make when trying to save data from a failing drive.My big lesson came when, a number of years ago, I spilled 20 ounces of coffee dead center on a Dell ultraportable. In the moment of terror, I thought I saw a strange blue hue shoot from the dying machine. The screen went blank for a moment, then flashed white, beeped, and then never displayed anything ever again. This was not a good day, especially for a guy who earns his living on deadline.

Turns out, when I opened the case, the hard drive was soaked with coffee. And I mean dripping. I tried to revive the drive with one of the tactics Kroll lists as a no-no.

I know these lists are often self-serving, but this list has some truth to it. Kroll estimates that 30% of all drives that prove to be unrecoverable are the result of these types of errors:

1. The user decides they need to completely wipe their drive and restore their data using their backup because they've experienced a data loss situation. A complete reformat and reinstall is performed, only for the user to realize their backup a.) does not work, or b.) is not current. Because the original drive data was wiped, there is little hope of getting back the lost data the user was trying to locate in the first place. To avoid this error, individuals should test their backups by restoring their data to an alternate location before assuming the backup is sound.

2. When a nonworking drive no longer spins, the user attempts to buy a like drive and swap out what he/she believes to be the nonworking part with a part from the newly purchased drive. Because current hard drive parts contain drive-specific information, this act does not fix the drive malfunction since the new part isn't programmed to "talk" to the drive's original parts. In this situation, Kroll Ontrack recommends seeking recovery assistance from a reputable data recovery provider. 3. Similar to the situation listed above, the user believes the head of the drive is stuck because he/she doesn't hear the drive spinning. In an attempt to perform a "quick fix," the user removes the drive and bangs it against his/her desk, creating physical damage to the drive and potentially rendering some data unrecoverable because the head of the drive can actually scratch the platters when it is shaken or tapped. While there are many reasons (electronic failure, power outage, etc.) why a hard drive head stops working, it is certain that shaking the drive won't address any of these issues. 4. A hard drive is waterlogged in either a flood situation or because a glass of liquid was spilled on it. Referencing a common data recovery myth, the user attempts to remedy the situation by using a hair dryer, further damaging the drive. In water damage scenarios, it is recommended that the individual keep the drive in its wet state and send it in for recovery. This will maximize the chances of recovery success, as drying a drive adheres the liquid to the drive. 5. The user opts to utilize an operating system failure program such as CHKDSK, Mac Disk Utility, or FSCK in order to remedy what he/she believes to be an operating error. If the drive is physically damaged and the user runs the program, it will further damage the drive, making recovery more difficult than if the user simply turned off the computer and called an expert at the onset of the issue. In this case, the user should run the system failure program in "safe mode." Running the program in safe mode will allow the program to report on the condition of the system without actually attempting to fix it, thus enabling the user to determine how to proceed.

My favorite is banging the hard drive on one's desk. I've tried this with radios and TVs with much success (not against my desk, I just give them a whack from the side). But I've yet to slam a hard drive against my desk. I have, with some temporary success, extended the life of a desktop power-supply and fan by banging it on my workbench.

But it turns out, the biggest mistake I made was trying to dry my notebook hard drive with a hair dryer. Looks like all I did was fuse coffee particles to the drive.

I do backup now, automatically, every day. The automated backup routine kicks itself on about an hour before I reach my desk first thing in the morning. And that's about the same time I have my first cup of coffee.


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