Using the right tools to Recover old or lost data
Most data today is stored, hosted and accessed digitally. This can include everything from documents like PDFs, work emails or even entire databases and websites. But sometimes important files may be needed from physical media such as hard-drives, flash-drives or even floppies (who doesn’t have an old copy of Kings Quest for MS-DOS kicking around).
Recently, I’d found an old external hard-drive that I needed to retrieve files from. However, upon plugging in the drive and using Windows Disk Management, I was greeted with a RAW partition. Unfortunately, unlike the FAT32 or NTFS formats that you would normally see on a hard-drive or flash-drive, the RAW partition (unrecognized) type is not mountable by the Windows Operating System. The RAW partition can occur when the records on the disk that hold what file system type is used have become damaged or corrupted.
If you suspect that you are dealing with an improperly formatted device, the first thing to remember is not to panic, as your data is potentially not lost forever. If Windows has prompted to format the drive do not accept this, as formatting will erase the un-readable partitions. Instead, I decided to try the following steps:
Use Windows Disk Management tools with Testdisk
To see exactly what partitions are on the drive, I went into the Windows Disk Management tool which can be accessed through the Control Panel -> Computer Management -> Storage -> Disk Management. The tool will display a list of all drives currently connected to the computer; including flash-drives and external or internal hard-drives. Information such as the number of partitions, including my RAW/unrecognized partition and what size they are is also available. I could have re-formatted the drive to a recognizable format like NTFS, but alternatively I will use a program called TestDisk to try and recover the data. When running TestDisk, you will be shown the following screen within the Windows Command prompt:
After choosing whether to create a new log file or not, a second screen is shown that displays all storage devices currently connected. Test Disk allows us to get into the storage disks without actually having to mount them within the Windows Operating System. Test Disk can repair broken partitions, copy data to our regular PC (into working drives/folders) and a few other features. For a step by step guide on how to use the Test Disk tool itself, check out the TestDisk Step by Step guide.
From here, I was able to copy the files from my RAW drive into a new drive that was formatted with NTFS. After rebooting, all of my files and precious old computer games were made available once again!
TestDisk and other tools are great for recovering invalid partitions, or creating new partitions to store data. Unlike my computer games, more important files such as sensitive information are recommended to be backed up on more than one location. This can include physical media such as the external hard-drive I recovered, or simply a flash drive. More backups can be done to cloud hosted storage like Microsoft Azure storage accounts. At Lunar Compass, we regularly utilize the Azure storage and database services to create daily and weekly backups of important content that can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection.
Of course, this depends on the sensitivity of your files and information. Although something such as copies of old computer games may not be as important as an entire website or database, you never know when that old physical media will become unreadable permanently. In this case, I was lucky and was able to use common disk tools to recover most of my data.