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DIY Tricks to Fix Device Damage: 10 Reasons Why the Internet Is Not Your Friend to Recover Important Data

By Jeff Pederson, Kroll Ontrack

Over the last couple of years in my work managing the lab and remote data recovery operations for everything from hard drives and smartphones to laptops and desktop computers, I have witnessed an increase in devices sent to our team showing do-it-yourself (DIY) data recovery attempts. From permanently encrypted devices to phones covered in sticky rice, users will try just about anything to salvage their data on their own.

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In an effort to curb these data loss scenarios, I have laid out the top 10 worst DIY tricks to recover data from damaged computers, hard drives and mobile devices:

A Common DIY Fail – When a hard drive fails, people will want to run CHKDSK on their computer. This destroys data that would have otherwise been recoverable.

Common RAID 5 Error – When a drive fails in a RAID 5, it will continue to function in a degraded mode. Most people are unaware because they don’t monitor the array, but when a second drive fails, the array fails, and the data is inaccessible. That’s when they pull the drives out, reset them and reboot. At that point, the initial degraded drive may spin up and come ready. The RAID controller will notice the data on the degraded drive is not in sync with the data in parity on the other drives, so it rebuilds parity with the invalid data from the degraded drive. This can overwrite days, weeks, months or even years of data.

Forever Encrypted – External drives are encrypted and the key resides on a chip inside the electronics of the enclosure. When failed, owners will throw away the external enclosure and try a different one. As a result, the drives cannot be unencrypted.

Software Fail – Often attempts are made to recover data from a hard drive with physical damage/read errors using data recovery software. Some users will also load the software onto the damaged drive, which includes the data the person is trying to recover. By the time they send it to my team for recovery, the data has sustained unrepairable damage.

Sticky Rice – Due to a popular internet remedy, people will put wet phones in rice in order to dry them out. We have seen phones which are sent in for data recovery service covered with rice and rice residue.

Technology Guru – Most people have a friend or relative that is thought of as an “expert” in technology. When a data recovery is needed, this technology guru will open the hard drive in a non-cleanroom environment and dust will fall on the drive. The dust is then cleaned off with their hand. A number of drives have been sent in to us for data recovery with fingerprints on the platters. The data under those fingerprints is very challenging to recover.

Open Me – People try to open hard drives and often miss the screw(s) hidden underneath the labels. They then proceed to use a screwdriver to pry open the top cover causing scratching, divots and in some cases, breaking of the platters. When scratched or gouged, the top surface becomes unrecoverable, resulting in only a partial recovery at best.

Freezer Recovery – Another DIY internet myth is putting a hard drive in the freezer to recover the data. People will often do this and then attempt to run the still-frozen hard drive. During this process, water will condense and freeze to the platters of the drive, causing the frozen hard drive to crash.

Old Tricks – Years ago, a person could swap the circuit board on a drive in an attempt to fix it, but now the boards are specific to the drive. Without the original drive, it will never function. Some people are still attempting this today. They try to swap the circuit board in their drive in an attempt to recover their data and when it doesn’t work, they send it in for professional data recovery. In a few instances, my team of engineers were sent a pile of boards along with the drive and had to figure out the correct one before the data could be recovered.

Something is Missing – There is a tip on the Internet that if you remove the platters from one drive and move them to a new one, you can recover the data from the platters. This method has been tried countless times without success. They will then send the platters to us for professional data recovery and in some cases, it is just the platters in a sandwich baggie, nothing else. Without knowledge of the hard drive model, among other vital information, the data is unrecoverable.

Have you tried any of these DIY hacks as a business or consumer user of technology? What other DIY tricks have you come across? Please share them in the comments below.

My number one tip to resolve this is actually not technology-related at all. But rather, a step you can take by making the choice to recognize the value of your data, weigh the high risk of data loss against that value and respond accordingly by consulting a professional.

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