Data Recovery Case Study: Water Damaged Hard Drive

Every year, we receive dozens of enquiries where a hard drive or mobile phone has been submerged in water and is no longer working. Data recovery from a soaked device can be tricky, and it’s all about doing the right thing as quickly as possible.

Water and electronics don’t mix, everyone knows that. The two most common causes of water damage we see are due to flooding and old-fashioned clumsiness. The chance of a successful data recovery depends on how water damaged the device is; the longer an electronic device has been submerged, the harder it will be to get any data back.

We recently received a hard disk drive that had been submerged during a flood for around 12 hours. The drive in question contained highly precious data that the client was keen to get back, as they had no working backup to restore. Luckily, the computer holding the hard drive wasn’t turned on at the time, and hadn’t been turned on since, significantly reducing any data recovery complication. In the event of a hard disk drive, mobile phone or any device becoming water damaged, never attempt to power them up; this can fry the circuitry and render data recovery impossible.

Our data recovery engineers were able to deconstruct the water damaged hard drive to access the platters and assembly. With our specialised platter jig and matching hard drive, we were able to reassemble the drive using donor parts. By spinning the disk at a fraction of its normal speed, we were able to take an image of the raw data without crashing the disk and causing further damage. From here, we were able to successfully calculate the data parameters and rebuild the client’s data. The chance of a successful data recovery hinges on your response to a water damaged device – time is of the essence.

You need to act quickly and try and dry out your device if it does become submerged in water. Avoid the temptation to apply direct heat, like a hair dryer or radiator, as this will only complicate the data recovery process further. Heat causes media degradation in hard disk drives, and the electric charges hair dryers give off can cause data loss in flash-based storage, where data is stored as electrical charges in chips. Place your water damaged hard drive or phone in a container with a desiccant material, like uncooked rice, and leave it for 24-48 hours. This will prevent further damage, but there may still be small particles inside the drive’s body, especially if the water was muddy. Once your hard drive, mobile phone or other device is dried out, you shouldn’t attempt to power it up and retrieve your files at home; this will only make it harder for a professional to do it later. Instead, consult a data recovery specialist who will be trained with dealing with water damaged hard drives. 

Data Recovery