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Recovering Data from Drowned / Flooded Hard Drives

click to see  Disklabs company profileby Simon Steggles, Director of Disklabs

Knowing how to handle a soggy hard drive can make the difference to a successful data recovery.
how to look after a flooded hard drive
It may sound nuts - but
don't let the disks dry out.
damage on a hurricane Katrina disk
damage in a Hurricane Katrina flooded hard disk
author Simon Steggles
About the author:-Simon Steggles is a director
of Disklabs Data Recovery and Computer
Forensics Services

Simon was a member of the British Royal Navy
where he worked in Communications and
Intelligence, leaving to take up a career in IT.
Simon specialised in storage, and now runs

Simon enjoys his family, wine, good food, travel,
and computing.

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This important design feature - which barely rates a mention in most SSD datasheets and press releases - has a strong impact on SSD data integrity and operational reliability.

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Flooding has always been a problem.

When it's expected, the problems can be mitigated. When it's unexpected, unsuspecting individuals and corporations can get caught out. This means that the average member of the public, small business etc is often unaware of what to do because of the rareness of this type of event. As is often the case, the public or small businesses often try to repair some types of jobs themselves. As the computer's most sensitive component is the hard disk drive, it is nearly always the first item to suffer the user's eagerness. Sadly for the person or company, the hard disk drive is of course the place where ALL their important data is kept. Simple solutions such as placing critical IT equipment on a first floor or second floor, somewhere known to be outside of the flood risk area can alleviate all the issues and mitigate the risk. It is the unexpected flood where catastrophe is more likely to occur.

Taking Hurricane Katrina (in 2005) as an example; the South East coast of the US expected and was ready for bad weather and all the associated hurricane related problems. What it wasn't ready for was the breaching of the Levees. This bought an exceptional amount of water into New Orleans, flooding the area, and of course causing billions of dollars of damage. This damage is generally thought of as literally bricks and mortar, however, there are also the hidden issues, such as the lost data on the residents/business owners computers, mobile phones, Blackberry's, PDA's etc.

More recently, in July 2007 in many parts of the UK , a month's worth of rainfall occurred in a single day. This happened several times in a month and caused rivers to burst their banks, causing devastating floods to areas not used to dealing with these types of incidents. Subsequently, thousands of people lost their data as their computers were left under water.
Disklabs have successfully retrieved data from wet, flood damaged hard disk drives and based on that experience offer this checklist of fundamental Do's and Don'ts:-
1 - Do NOT attempt to recover the data yourself. This will do more damage to your data and makes it more difficult to recover when it eventually gets to a data recovery specialist.

When hard disk drives get wet, the 'heads' can get stuck to the platters. When the hard drive is powered up in this state the disk tries to spin up and the heads literally get ripped off causing damage to the platters - the place where all the data is stored.
2 - Do NOT DRY the hard disk drive out. Although this may seem paradoxical - this will nearly always destroy the platter of the hard disk thus making your data irretrievable.

When hard disk drives get wet then dry out, there is nearly always a residue of contaminant left on the platters and heads. Any residue (including a piece of dust), causes physical degradation of the hard disk's platters and loses more data.
3 - DO keep the hard disk WET. Ideally, keep the hard disk drive in a sealed container to keep the hard disk drive wet. This stops the hard disk drive corroding and allows the technical staff at the recovery company to clean and dry the platters correctly with minimum damage to the platter surfaces.

Normally, Disklabs Data Recovery charges a premium for water damaged hard disk drives, however, this additional charge for the cleaning and drying out of the hard disk drive has been waivered for the victims of the latest flooding events.
Editor's footnotes

The above article was published here in - August 2007.

How do these guidelines apply in the case of SSD?

Some SSDs are waterproof. But this doesn't help if they're installed in a conventional notebook - because the notebook motherboard itself will get trashed.

ioSafe has a product called ioSafe Solo SSD - an ultra rugged USB / eSATA external flash SSD with upto 256GB capacity designed to provide data protection against disasters such as fire, flood, and building collapse. OK - it's too big to put in your notebook.

On the other hand RunCore showed a waterproof notebook SSD at CeBit 2010 - in this video interview - by hexus tv. It's very boring at the start - and I was just about to turn it off (even though RunCore is a customer of mine) - when I started to hear a lot of very significant stuff about their rugged and military technology and how some of that expertise was trickling down into consumer SSDs.

more data recovery related articles:-

SSD Data Recovery?
What is Data Recovery?
Selecting a Data Recovery Provider
Surviving Non-traditional Data Disasters
Testing the Limits of Hard Disk Recovery
Recovering a Business from Administrator Induced Data Loss
Introduction to SSD Data Recovery Concepts and Technologies
Sex, Spies and Hard Drives - Findings from 1,000 Data Recoveries
Data Loss and Hard Drive Failure: Understanding the Causes and Costs
Detecting file fragmentation point using sequential hypothesis testing (pdf)

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