Deleted Files Recovery

As I have mentioned before, the cost of a stolen laptop is much higher than just the value of the laptop itself. And for me that loss was immense. I have been working on upgrades for my websites to increase positive cash flow (aka passive income) and most of it went poof with my laptop, all of my email communication, both sent and received was dealt with using Microsoft Outlook 2007 I had installed on the laptop which means it went all poof after theft, including saved contacts of people I met and/or dealt with during my travels, various documents I was working on were on the laptop as well but most of all – I had all of my pictures and videos from the travels so far on that machine and with it gone, the media which I have not backed up were gone too. This was one of the biggest hits I took when I got my laptop stolen. Things around me were happening faster than I could write about it in my journal but I had pictures so I didn’t have to worry about anything. Pictures served as solid reminder of everything I went though so I was able to recall all memories and post about it even with months of delay. But with laptop gone, my memories went with it. It literally meant near complete paralysis of my journal with full interruption of updates until I could recover and resume writing from a new standpoint with all travels I have experienced so far missing.

This was a loss I was having hard time handling because pictures would keep the memories alive even after many years. I would be able to go through them at any point in my life and re-live the adventures I have gone through by just browsing through old photographs. Some of the photographs were extremely precious too – many involved people meeting with which changed my life. And now it was gone. The pain I was feeling could not be described.

My Canon digital camera uses Compact Flash cards to save captured images on. I was very reluctant to erase any of them as the card was getting filled up but new adventures were taking place every day and with them new pictures were being taken every day. The card I had in my camera had 8GB storage capacity – that’s a whole pile of images I could store on it. However the more images I had on it, the slower the previewing was getting. When I had 6000 images on the card, each time I wanted to preview an image taken, the process took forever so when I eventually filled the card up entirely, I made sure all of the images were saved on my laptop’s hard drive and I proceeded with the clear-up of the CF card by formatting. I remember I was in Pattaya, Thailand when I formatted my card.

With all the images safely stored on my laptop (at least I thought they were safe – I failed to take the over the top thievery in the Dominican Republic into account) I started using the card again knowing I had crap loads of space on it for thousands of new pictures. By the time my laptop was stolen, I had about 1/5 of the card filled with new pictures. At that point I realized that even though my laptop is gone and all pictures I had on it went with it, I still have my Compact Flash card on which the pictures were originally stored. And sure – I have formatted the card in the meantime removing all of the images from it and used part of its storage capacity to capture new images, but I knew very well that part of the card which has not been used up with new images would still store traces of old images and I may be able to recover some of them. I studied electrical engineering in high school and at the university and worked as a computer tech most of my working life. I consider myself to be reasonably computer savvy with vast programming knowledge and thorough understanding on how computer components, including storage devices such as hard drives are built. Besides, I’ve had previous experience with deleted files recovery only this time I was gonna do it for myself, not my friend.

When I first started working on computers, the machines used 386 Intel processors and ran on MS DOS operating systems. Because I had to put up with countless hard drive failures and data recovery (mostly due to hardware failure, not accidental deletion), I studied the hard drives and knew the process of how they are built and how their internal structure works backwards. When I first started messing around with computers in school, hard drives did not have FAT tables (File Allocation Tables) so you’d have to know physical location of each file on the hard drive in order to access it. Introduction of FAT tables made it much easier as now you’d just need to know file’s name and search for it as the appropriate sectors associated with this file would be called using references in the FAT table. I knew that deletion of files (accidental or intentional) simply removes the reference of those files from the FAT table but hard drive sectors still bear the data unless overwritten by new data. If the reference of the file is removed from the FAT table, the file will not be allocated and will appear as non existent on said hard drive. However unless data in sectors this file occupied were replaced with new data that are part of a whole new file, the recovery of that file is possible.

Since I had enough experience recovering lost or deleted files from hard drives, I was once called for help by a friend of mine who accidently SHIFT deleted wrong directory which contained important pictures. She was meaning to delete a different directory but clicked on the wrong name and her fingers acted faster than her brain was able to process what was happening and since she was used to SHIFT deleting her files (to bypass the storage in the Deleted Files Bin – which she found irritating), the whole directory went poof for her in a click of a button. She freaked out and unable to undo her actions, she called me up. This was my first real case of deleted files recovery I performed since I switched careers from being a computer tech to being a computer programmer. Obviously, my immediate instructions for my unfortunate friend who accidently SHIFT deleted her files were to quit doing anything on a computer, not save a thing even if she was working on something and disconnect it from the internet immediately. Deleted files are for the most part recoverable for as long as you do not replace the data in sectors where they were stored with new data. So if you save something you are working on, it may be saved in sectors used by files you are trying to recover which will render these files unrecoverable. Same goes for use of the internet as temporary internet files are stored on the computer’s hard drive and if you were saving your files on the same drive, they may be overwritten by the system as you use the internet. Hence your first and most important step in your efforts to recover deleted files is to prevent any new data from being written on the hard drive.

After I have given these instructions to my friend, I came over to her and was able to successfully recover about 98% of her accidentally deleted files. Sure, a couple were missing and a couple were corrupt, but she got vast majority back and after thinking that she may have lost them all, this was more than win for her. She was really glad I saved her pics.

And now with my laptop stolen and all pictures that were on it gone, I had one last chance to possibly recover some of them from the Compact Flash card I had in my camera. As obvious first step, I immediately stopped taking any pictures because with each new picture taken, I would irreversibly lose one or more of old pictures that may still be on that card. I turned my camera off and pulled the card out. The next step was to wait until I get back to Canada so I can get on a virus free computer and attempt recovery of deleted pictures. They were more than simply deleted as I have formatted the card prior to reuse, but I kept my hopes high and believed it will still be possible to recover most of the files from the space that has not been used up. Sadly, good part of the card had new pictures on it already, including some pictures I took in the Dominican Republic prior to laptop theft and whatever old files this space stored were forever gone, but most of card’s storage capacity has not been overwritten so chances of file recovery did exist. I could not wait to come back to Canada to see where exactly I’m at and whether this deleted files recovery can bring me some of my memories back.

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