Data Loss from a Hard Drive: Typical Scenarios and How to Prevent a Catastrophe

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You probably would agree that without the hard drive, which serves as the primary storage device for our desktops and laptops, the computer would become a pretty dumb and useless zombie. Providing colossal amounts of memory, it is responsible for storing all the software installed on our PCs as well as tons of digital photos, videos, text documents and all other stuff we create or download. But no matter how crucial this component is, let’s just grin and bear it: Hard drives are not built to last forever, and sooner or later all of them fail or lose some, if not all of their data (and yes, to be honest, sometimes with a little assistance from our own). And when the disastrous day comes, after getting over that “deer caught in the headlights” phase, you start realizing how precious your treasured memories or documents you’ve put blood, sweat and tears in are to you, scolding yourself for having neglected backups and lamenting why you’re the one befallen by such a terrible fate. And in that despair, we are exceptionally prone to making impulsive decisions that can make matters only worse. If you don’t want to say farewell to all your lost data, take a breather immediately: There are several possible data loss scenarios from a hard disk drive, and in most of them you are likely to rescue your files as long as you take the right course of actions.

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Accidentally deleted files

Just one erroneous click – and oops... The document you’ve been working for the whole month long just vanishes without a trace. Sounds painfully familiar? Fortunately, even after you press the “Shift+Delete” keys, the file itself cannot disappear at once. It still remains on your drive until the file system overwrites it with some other data, thus, the sooner you discover the loss – the better chances it has to be raised from the dead. First of all, check the recycle bin to make sure your file is indeed not still in there. If so, you need to run a data recovery program that will scan the drive for the lost data and restore it. However, you should avoid the following mistakes at all costs:

  • Don’t create any new files, move or copy any data, as the file you want to recover might just get overwritten;
  • Avoid downloading or installing any new software onto this drive, including a data recovery utility;
  • Don’t restart your PC. During this process, the operating system reads and writes data to the hard drive and this may result in overwriting the files you want so desperately back;
  • Make sure you close all programs, even those running in the taskbar. Don’t run any new ones (except for a data recovery tool). Even using a web-browser can cause your system to write some data to the hard drive, potentially overwriting your lost files;
  • Always save the recovered files to a different drive or disk.
Illustration for article titled Data Loss from a Hard Drive: Typical Scenarios and How to Prevent a Catastropheem/em
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Unintentional formatting

Formatting a drive is like making a new fresh start. Not that kind of a fresh start we’re planning to make each new year/Monday by promising ourselves to begin eating healthier, exercising much more often and similar nonsense, but it’s what makes all of the drive’s space free and available for further usage, erasing all the references associated with the files. There are many reasons why you may want to reformat your drive, for instance, to get rid of malware or delete all the data you no longer need, but mistakes are just an essential part of this perfectly imperfect life, and you may accidentally format the wrong drive, select the wrong partition while installing an operating system or lose all your data as a result of file system transition (for this process always involves partition formatting). Moreover, bad sectors, the defective parts of the hard drive the operating system cannot access, may sometimes have you format the drive to bring it back to a working state. These and other misfortunes often result in the instant loss of huge amounts of important data. Thankfully, although you can no longer see your files, all of them remain at their original location, and using reliable data recovery software, you can recover up to 100 percent of the formatted data. To avoid further data damage, immediately stop where you are: Installing or downloading anything onto the formatted drive may cause permanent data loss. Extract the problem drive and attach it to another computer (the one with a working operating system and data recovery utility) as a secondary drive. After scanning it for lost data, save the restored files to a drive other than the one from which you are recovering.

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Malware attacks

Computer viruses and other malicious software, like those mosquitoes hanging around our ears at summer night, can be extremely irritating if you don’t get around them properly. More often than not after having slipped into the system, they start doing their dirty deeds, which not only have a big effect on the performance of your PC but may also result in corruption or loss of some of your files. You can easily catch such a pest while surfing suspicious websites, downloading infected software or opening e-mail attachments. Even if you have a good antivirus installed and keep it up to date, your data is still at risk, since skilled hackers sometimes manage to get in anyway. If your important file has fallen a victim to a malicious attack, you can still rescue it using quality data recovery software. But it is exceedingly important that:

  • You should choose a data recovery utility that won’t attempt to do any repairs to the lost or corrupted files before restoring them, for they may become completely unrecoverable in the event that something goes wrong;
  • Like in previously mentioned data loss scenarios, you shouldn’t save or install anything onto the problem drive to keep the lost data from being overwritten;
  • Don’t try to use System Restore, which allows you to revert your operating system to a recent point, as that will lead to the loss of all recently created files.
  • Any repairs to the system itself may also result in overwriting the lost data.
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Logical errors

Your files may get corrupted or lost owing to various non-physical failures, which seem to appear out of nowhere but may be actually caused by wide range factors, such as software-related issues, inappropriate system shutdown, corruption of significant system files, errors in writing critical file system information and many others. At times these errors are so extensive that they even prevent the whole system from booting up. Among other warning signs are system crashes, disk errors, the infamous “blue screen of death”, impossibility to access a file / folder / logical volume. Provided there is nothing physically wrong with the disk, a reliable data recovery tool can successfully restore the lost data. Nonetheless, you should refrain from:

  • reinstalling the operating system before the last file is recovered;
  • formatting the drive since it will create new file structures over the existing ones;
  • using any system repair tools, as their actions can result in data overwriting;
  • installing or writing anything to the problem drive.

Physical damage

You’ve probably heard that hard drives are extremely fragile creatures. An accidental drop, electricity surge, a glass of water knocked over by your naughty pet or any other form of mishandling can easily damage the drive’s mechanical components and destroy your data. On top of that, all hard drives inevitably fail as a result of normal wear and tear. Needless to say that it is highly recommended to handle your hard drive with care and pay attention to all the warning signs of its upcoming failure as hardware damage may cause your data to be lost beyond the point of recovery. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that even a professional service provider can completely recover your precious data if the storage is physically damaged, but there is always a chance that at least some files are still intact, so remove the drive immediately and contact data recovery experts. Yet, any of the following erroneous actions may appear to be fatal:

  • Don’t put the drive in the freezer / microwave / any other weird place it doesn’t belong to, as this won’t magically make it come back to life;
  • Banging the drive on the floor or table will do more harm than good (what a surprise!);
  • Don’t try to fix it yourself unless you have the needed expertise.
Illustration for article titled Data Loss from a Hard Drive: Typical Scenarios and How to Prevent a Catastropheem/em
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Data loss from a hard drive may happen due to various reasons and is certainly not the most pleasant experience to go through (to say the least), but being prepared for it and knowing what to do in each case, you will be able to tackle it quickly and effectively. Remember that when it comes to recovering lost files, your timely and accurate decisions can make a tremendous difference.

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