KÜRT – Data Recovery and Information Security

The Data-Loss “Hall of Fame”

11 October 2007, Budapest;

The data recovery experts at KÜRT Zrt. have come across some weird and wonderful cases of data loss over the past 18 years. Although hard drives, tapes and flash memory devices do occasionally seem to take on a life of their own, in most cases it’s the users themselves who represent the greatest threat to their own data. So let’s take a look at some of the “top” data losers of past years, as well as a few ground rules to prevent you from sharing their fate.

No. 5: Hapless fraudsters fall foul of the laws of physics
Although it is rare for KÜRT to come across an instance of data loss caused by the long arm of the law, there has been at least one heartening example of this. Two years ago the police raided an apartment on the sixth storey of a tower block. They were investigating a company on suspicion of computer fraud. After searching the flat itself to no avail, they came across a heap of hard disk drives next to the building. The 18-metre drop had certainly not done them any good; in fact they had sustained serious damage. Since the boys in blue were keen to extract certain information from these devices, to be used in evidence against their suspects, they rushed them over to KÜRT’s data recovery labs. The data was successfully recovered, and used in the subsequent trial. It appears that throwing hard drives out of a sixth-floor window is perhaps not the best means of deleting the information that is stored on them in the form of magnetic impulses.

No. 4: For lovers of extreme sports
Many people regard the Eiger Glacier as a worthy challenge. They flock in great numbers to enjoy the skiing holiday of a lifetime, or push their rock-climbing skills to the limit. We are among the few who didn’t have to go to the mountain to take up the gauntlet. The mountain, or rather the Eiger Glacier, came to us. And it certainly posed no less of a challenge to us than it did to the thrill-seekers.
The mountain and the glacier arrived together, in the summer of 2007, in the form of a waterlogged hard drive coated in a thick layer of mud. A Swiss travel agency had stored its servers in a cellar at the foot of the mountain. Owing to a spell of unusually wet weather, the slurry of mud and rainwater that came pouring down the mountain also took a liking to the place, and it’s a well-known fact that mud, water and hard drives are not the best of friends. This assignment went a little beyond the scope of our normal operations. First we dried the devices out, and cleaned them up. Then all that remained was to recover the data. The travel agency has since moved its servers to the top floor.

No. 3: The damaging side effects of obsessive cleaning
One day the owner of a small business in Germany decided that the standards of cleanliness in the server room just weren’t up to scratch. He decided to show the cleaning staff just what he meant by “clean”. Together with the cleaners, he scrubbed and polished until the place was sparkling. They were just about to call it a day when our hero caught a glimpse of the removable hard drive racks in the server. He was horrified to see that, over time, the cooling fans had covered the ventilation grilles in a thick layer of fine dust. Without a second thought he began fanatically pulling out the drawers, one after the other. Although the server incorporated a redundant data storage system, which could happily compensate for the loss of a single drive, it was not designed to withstand such a frenzied onslaught of dusting. As a result of the massive data loss that ensued, the entire server collapsed. It took the engineers at the KÜRT Group’s German subsidiary a whole weekend to restore the data that had been stored in the system.

No. 2: Not exactly music to our ears
On one occasion, a Norwegian client of ours attempted to find out what was wrong with the hard drive on his computer, which was behaving oddly. Not wishing to expend too much effort, and being a thrifty soul, he decided to first try and solve the problem over the phone, and only send the machine to our laboratories in Hungary if no other solution could be found. When our customer service representative answered the phone, the client asked him to listen for a few moments before giving an opinion. He then started up the computer and held the receiver close to the hard drive, which emitted a harsh grinding noise. Unfortunately, this was the precise moment at which the faulty head of the drive fatally shredded the magnetic surface on which the data was stored. Our colleague’s reply was brief and to the point: “Now, it’s fairly likely that your data will be irrecoverable.” However, since it is impossible to establish over the phone whether data recovery is possible, the client sent the drive to us. Unfortunately, our man was proved to be right.

No 1: The perils of “do-it-yourself” data recovery
As a golden rule, never, under any circumstances, attempt to open or tamper with a malfunctioning hard drive. The unit contains a magnetised disk, known as the platter, on which the data is stored. Even a single speck of dust can permanently wreck the surface of the disc, destroying the data stored on it, which could otherwise be recovered. A few months ago we received a drive that contained some traces of pastry and a greasy fingerprint or two, but not much in the way of recoverable data. The only advice we could give to our crestfallen client was to call in the professionals next time, rather than trade his valuable data for a set of fingerprints and the remains of his breakfast.

Five basic rules to help you avoid losing your data:

  1. Always save your data to more than one storage device. The more frequently you back up your data to another hard drive, CD or DVD, the less likely you will be to find yourself in an awkward situation.
  2. Never store data backups on FLASH memory devices, since they are not suitable for this purpose.
  3. If your hard drive emits any strange sounds or has trouble starting up, shut it down immediately and seek the advice of an expert.
  4. In the event of data loss, any DIY recovery attempts could lead to permanent data loss.
  5. If the worst has already happened, be careful when choosing whom to entrust with the task of recovering your data. Clean-room laboratory facilities are essential for successful data recovery. Without these, no company is capable of providing a reliable service.