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Avoid common data nightmares these holidays

If you’re taking off for a well-earned rest this holiday season, here are some ways to avoid a total nightmare in managing your data wherever in the world your travels may take you.

The botched recovery
Often when Ontrack Data Recovery services receives media to recover data from, they aren’t the first to make an attempt. Ill-informed recovery attempts drastically reduce the chances of a successful recovery. ‘Cowboy’ recovery attempts by people who lack the required expertise can cause additional damage to the original data loss.

A recent example is a hard drive that had suffered a seized motor. In opening the disk to diagnose the problem, the technician caused irreparable damage by accidentally trying to turn the spindle with pliers, slipping and scratching the disk’s platters. A real butcher’s job!

  • If your data is important or valuable, go straight to a professional and the chances are you will get it back. Trying to recover data ‘on the cheap’ is a false economy because the chances of that data being permanently lost are dramatically increased, and you may need to visit a professional anyway.

The virtualised storage cobweb
The rise in popularity of network attached storage and storage area network devices has added a layer of complexity to many recoveries. Each brand of these self-contained storage devices use their own proprietary file systems, each needing bespoke recovery techniques. Add a pinch of virtualisation and dynamic RAID (redundant array of independent disks) into the mix and you have a bubbling cauldron of complexity.

In the case of data loss on these systems, the owners of the data are often at a loss as to which part of the mix has malfunctioned. Piecing together data from overlapping technologies can be enough to make the blood run cold.

  • If you’re using a complicated web of technologies, make sure you understand the implications for data recovery, and that your backups are running as they should.

The mysterious case of the invisible encryption
External hard disks aimed at consumers are increasingly sold with encryption built in. Many people coming to Kroll Ontrack to get their prized family photos back from their faulty external disk are surprised to hear their disk is encrypted. as this is a function of the electronics in the external casing.

Another encryption related horror is caused simply by encrypting a disk and then forgetting the password. The result? Permanent data loss. Encryption is a Jekyll and Hyde tool from a data management viewpoint. The one process has two sides—it can be a valuable ally against data breach, yet the mortal enemy of a successful recovery.

  • Ask yourself if the files you are storing warrant full disk encryption. It’s a trade off between making your files hard to access illegitimately, and making them easy to recover.

The abusive owner
The massive success of smartphones and tablets has led to an increase in people treating their laptops like more portable devices. This can lead to casually walking around with a laptop while it’s running.

Traditional spinning disks, unlike the solid state storage found in some portable devices, are very sensitive to movement. A little jolt, or even dropping a pumpkin on your laptop while the disk is reading or writing can lead to physical damage to the disk and permanent data loss. The damage may also take time to appear as a damaged disk head drags itself across the platters and the debris from the head crash also builds up and causes incremental damage and eventual disk failure.

If you’ve dropped a laptop containing the only version of some extremely important information back it up immediately, don’t assume the disk is okay.

Moreover, when these abusive owners aren’t waving their machines around in public, they are at their desk… drinking coffee. The common untrained response to a coffee spill—instead of switching off the device immediately—appears to be to leave the machine running to see if enough coffee has been deployed to short out the electronics.

  • If you damage any machine with a spinning disk, and it contains vital information, the best course of action is to immediately power off and seek expert advice. The rule of thumb is that a spinning disk that has suffered a heavy impact while in operation will fail, it’s just a matter of when. Continuing to run a damaged disk can make matters much worse, and running any electronic device that has been exposed to liquids and has not yet dried, could cause the electronics to short, again causing permanent failure.

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Adrian Briscoe

Adrian Briscoe

Adrian Briscoe is general manager Asia Pacific for Kroll Ontrack, a provider of cutting-edge data recovery services and software to business and home users. Based in Brisbane, Adrian oversees the Ontrack Data Recovery services and software for the company’s offices in Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong. He originally joined Kroll Ontrack as an Electronic Evidence Consultant in the organisation’s London office. Prior, Adrian spent five years in Hong Kong with PricewaterhouseCoopers in its Corporate Finance & Recovery division. Adrian has more than 20 years’ experience in the IT industry, initially starting out as a protocol specialist in London, working with IBM mainframe, mini and desktop systems.

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