4 ways to find lost data without using a backup

Over the years I recovered information from computers where the data was thought to have been lost and was not backed up. This happened when:

    • a client’s email program one day showed only some of their emails
    • changes to a program were lost overnight before a presentation
    • documents in a client’s My Documents folder disappeared and
    • a computer would not start up.

Each scenario required a different way to get data back.

In this article find out the four ways the lost data was found and what could be done to reduce the risk of the same thing happening again.

Data recovery by Sean MacEntee
Data recovery by Sean MacEntee CC BY 2.0

Restoring email files

The first situation occurred when my client checked her email and found that the majority of her emails were lost.  When she told me about it, I checked her email, hoping to find something that would help, but instead I unfortunately found the same as her. Most of her email had gone. Determining that her email program could not fix the problem, I searched online forum discussions about losing email files hoping to understand how the emails got lost and how to find them. A number of the discussions indicated:

    • that the likely cause for losing emails was from data files becoming corrupted, and
    • that there were programs that could locate and recover corrupt data files when they occur.

Armed with this knowledge, I located a few of these programs then determined which programs worked by using their free trial version to find the files. Where the trial version found the files, I then checked the help and marketing material as well as customer experiences of each program to understand what would happen next. From the documentation and testimonials I determined the program most likely to work, paid the license, ran the program and fixed the files. As a result, I restarted the email program successfully and showed the happy client her emails that she thought were lost

Three other ways

When program changes were lost overnight, the programmer had spent eight hours making the original changes.  The problem was that another person with systems privileges wiped the whole computer system after the programmer finished his changes. The  systems manager already recovered the backup files from the night before, which were taken before the changes were made and meant no later backups were available.  The programmer realised that the code changes could not be recovered but was also relatively fresh in his mind so he rewrote the changes in the hour he had before the presentation.

When the documents in a client’s My Documents folder disappeared, I viewed the tablet log files, found the files could be accessed through the file open history in various programs and also discussed the issue with colleagues.  It appeared that the problem occurred after a software update.  All the documents in My Documents were then recovered by running a system restore to a point before the date the problem occurred.

Another laptop that would not start up appeared damaged from a power fault and would have been relatively more expensive to repair than to replace.  So, to retrieve the data, I removed the hard drive from the laptop and placed it in another computer.  I then copied the files to a USB drive and handed the USB to another happy client.

Could prevention be the best cure?

Reflecting on the above examples, losing data does not always result in an unrecoverable disaster. However, although extra planning, time and resources may be required there are some ways to reduce the risk of data loss, maximising continuous operation and gaining faster recovery times worth considering, such as:

    • Backing up files daily, weekly or monthly to store dynamic and valuable information
    • Saving your changes often to your system drive, to the cloud, a USB drive or an external drive
    • Mirroring disks with more than one hard drive for hardware redundancy and
    • Installing an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) or at least a surge protector to minimise physical damage from power problems

Have you lost data?  How did you recover your files and resume normal operation?