Data is steadily becoming one of our most valuable assets, as we often realize when we lose it. Data comes at us from many different angles, be it emails in our inbox, photos we’ve taken, sales transactions or documents we’ve created. More and more of what we do and what we depend on is based on digital data, and this data needs to be stored somewhere.
We all have a desktop computer or laptop which we use to conduct our daily business, and within it is a very important hardware component, the hard drive. Unless you have absolutely everything stored on the cloud, a large chunk of your digital assets reside on the hard drive itself. They are fantastic devices when working correctly, but find yourself looking for something you can no longer find and you could be in some trouble.
To prevent such cases from arising, we have mentioned the top 5 causes of data loss and what you can do to prevent it:
Hardware or System Malfunctions
A survey found that the main cause of data loss is in fact hardware failure or system malfunctions. There are many forms of hardware failures and system malfunctions, but let’s focus on instances relating to hard drive failures.
Even though they look like a small silver or black rectangular box the size of your smart phone, they are incredibly high-tech devices and a feat of engineering marvel. The platters inside rotate at anything from 5,400RPM up to 7,200RPM and use tiny read and write heads to manage your data. These heads fly a few nanometers above the platter surfaces, the gap being many hundreds of times smaller than the width of a human hair.
Hard drives run a complex firmware environment, much like your computer or smart phone’s operating system, and have a very efficient electrical platform to keep it all running. The combination of these electrical, software and mechanical components create a device that can store a massive amount of data in a tiny space. However, things can go wrong.
Bad sectors often develop in hard drives and this is the leading cause of hard drive malfunctions. The sector can no longer be reliably read by the head, so the firmware automatically reallocates this to one of the spare sectors put aside during the manufacture process. The problem is that bad sectors often spread, and once these spares have been used up the firmware can no longer manage the problem. The drive either goes offline or the drive will hang when you try to access it.
Another common issue is a head failure where one or all of the read and write heads stop working. This usually manifests itself with the distinctive “click of death“. The heads can no longer locate themselves so bounce between the limiting stoppers inside the drive. If the part of the head that allows it to fly above the platter also fails we then call this a head crash, where the heads no longer fly over the platter surface, instead grinding into your data and causing catastrophic damage.
One more problem often experienced is bad or incorrect power being fed to a hard drive. Someone might plug their laptop charger into their external hard drive, supplying too much voltage and shorting out the PCB (printed circuit board). Power surges and thunderstorms also cause havoc, sending surges of power through the PCB and taking the drive offline.
Here are some things to minimize the risk of hardware failure or system malfunctions:
- Keep your devices in dry, dust-free areas. This will ensure your fans stay unclogged and the drives can run at the required temperatures.
- Try not to move a hard drive that is in use. Due to the moving parts and tiny tolerances within the hard drive, any movement can be a recipe for a disaster. When powered off they are relatively robust, but be careful when they are spinning.
- Keep your machine on overnight. Although not a great idea for the environment, it will reduce wear and tear on your hard drive. The powering up and down cycles are the ones that cause the most wear on a hard drive.
- Run your machine on a UPS, this will protect you from voltage spikes or dirty power your environment might experience.
Human error is also right up there as the second most common cause of data loss. There are two forms of human error that can cause data loss, those are deleting files by accident or formatting a hard drive accidentally. Sometimes you can restore a deleted file from the recycle bin, but other data may not be able to be restored. Another common human error is damaging the hard drive by knocking it over or dropping it.
To prevent this type of data loss you need to be careful when handling your devices as well as being cautious when deleting data or formatting storage devices. Always ensure you have the data you need backed up and don’t empty the recycle bin until you are certain you’re not deleting anything important.
Software corruption usually comes out of nowhere and often comes at the worst possible time. There are a few factors that can cause software corruption, but you can avoid data loss by saving documents often and ensuring the auto save option is enabled. Saving different versions of an important document is also a good idea. That way, if the document you are working on becomes corrupt you can revert to an older version.
Computer Viruses and Malware
Viruses are everywhere on the internet and they can slow down your computer as well as steal sensitive information from your machine. Viruses can also damage your important data by means of corrupting of encryption. Many people are hit by variants of the CryptoLocker virus which encrypts your data and then requests a ransom to be paid in order for the unlock code. A good antivirus program is highly recommended to prevent this type of data loss, as well as being cautious of opening foreign e-mail attachments.
Although natural disasters are uncommon, they do need to be planned for. An unexpected flood or hurricane can cause devastation and, no matter how well you look after the data on your machine, it could be gone before you know it.
The best way to plan for something like this is to ensure you either have an offsite backup or store your data on the cloud. Some people make the mistake of making regular backups, but keeping the backup in the same location as the original. If a fire were to sweep through the building the backup would be meaningless. Similarly, if you have your laptop stored in a bag along with your backup hard drive, if this is stolen you are left without your valuable data.
If you find yourself in a position where you have lost data, a data recovery company should be able to assist you. They specialize in recovering data from failed hard drives and all forms of storage by means of specialized hardware and software tools. A lot of reverse engineering is required to work on a failed storage device, it’s a complex task. It’s never wise to attempt a DIY attempt as you could take your hard drive from a recoverable state to total destruction in seconds. Rather contact a specialist data recovery for a quote, that way you know where you stand.