If you’ve lost your data, your first instinct might be to try and salvage whatever you can with whatever tools you can find. But before you hit “download” on any new software, you should be aware of some of the risks involved with using data recovery software.
So, is any data recovery software safe to use? Some are, some aren’t. Not all data recovery software is created equal. If you don’t vet the software you download or use, you could make things worse or potentially infect your computer with malware. Watch out for these red flags before you start downloading data recovery software.
When to Use Data Recovery Software
You can use data recovery software if you’ve lost data and your computer isn’t physically damaged. Physical damage needs to be repaired by a data recovery specialist. If your hard drive is physically damaged, turning the computer off and on to try and fix the issue can worsen that damage.
“Logical damage” can happen if you accidentally format a drive, or if the file directory is accidentally damaged. It can also happen due to malware or overwriting data. If your hard drive has logical damage, then you can use data recovery software to try and retrieve the data.
The Red Flags of Using Free Data Recovery Software
Losing your files, even if they weren’t that important, is still a tough pill to swallow. Data recovery software can make it easier to get them back, but of course, there’s a possibility that you still won’t get it all. Free data recovery software has its risks, so you still need to be cautious when choosing and downloading software.
The Software Isn’t Reputable
If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. While free data recovery software does exist, any recovery tools that don’t have any third-party reviews can be suspect. Downloading and using unvetted software could open up your computer or device to malware or a virus, potentially compromising your entire system.
Most data recovery software will allow you to recover data for free up to a certain point. You might be limited by the amount of data you can recover, for instance. Some software requires a license in order to recover data on more than one device. Before you put any new software on your computer or device, vet it and make sure it’s reputable and legitimate.
It Could Overwrite Your Data
One of the risks of using free data recovery software is that you could potentially overwrite your data. If you download the software to the same machine that has a failing hard drive, you’re risking the data you lost. Overwritten data is different from deleted data. Deleted data can technically still be retrieved, but overwritten data has been replaced by new information and can’t be recovered.
When you download a new program, you run the risk of your computer overwriting old data to install the software. If you plan on downloading any software at all, it should be to an external storage device like a USB drive. This way, you can ensure that whatever you download doesn’t result in losing even more data.
It Doesn’t Detect Technical Failures
Even if you get your files back, not knowing the cause of your data loss makes it possible you’ll experience it again. If your software can’t detect the technical failure that caused your data loss, then you can’t fix the problem.
Hard drives can fail for a number of reasons, from scratches on the platter to a head crash. You can also lose data due to a virus or malware. If you can eliminate the different reasons for your data loss, you can determine if you need to replace your hard drive altogether. Knowing what went wrong and why you lost your data is the best way to keep it from happening again.
Not Everything On Your Hard Drive Is Scanned
When using data recovery software, the program scans your hard drive to find the lost data and recover it. Once it finds all of the data that hasn’t been overwritten, you can get it back. What happens, though, if your software doesn’t find everything? If you don’t have reliable data recovery software, you could miss data that’s actually recoverable in the first place.
If you have something called a “bad sector” on your hard drive, it means that a part of your storage space on your hard drive is defective. The sector can have physical or logical damage that makes it unable to respond to any read or write requests. If your hard drive is physically damaged, then using it at all can further damage it. As always, be careful when recovering your data and call in a professional if there’s damage to the hardware itself.
It Doesn’t Securely Delete Your Data Afterwards
Once you’ve recovered your data, you’ll want to make a copy of it to an external hard drive or back it up in some way. Once your data is backed up, the next best step is to overwrite and therefore completely erase the old files on your old hard drive. This ensures that any sensitive information or data you might have isn’t vulnerable.
Reputable data recovery software or services will securely erase your data afterward. This is especially important if you end up wanting to sell or give away your hard drive. You’ll need to thoroughly wipe it to make sure no data remains. The best way to erase data for good is to overwrite it, and data recovery software with that functionality can do that for you.
The Green Flags of Data Recovery Software
Free data recovery software does come with a cost, even if it’s not upfront. You could be downloading a file containing malware, spyware or a virus. Depending on how much data you lost and what data you lost, buying data recovery software might be worth it.
Top-notch recovery software will, of course, come from a reputable company, but it should also securely handle all of your data. It will also thoroughly scan all parts of your hard drive and be able to restore multiple file formats.
Data recovery software only works if the software is damaged, not the hardware. In the event that your hard drive is physically damaged, send it to a professional. Beyond that, make sure you treat the device or hard drive with caution. Using your computer can cause further damage if the hard drive is in use.
“Free” Isn’t Always Free
If you plan on using free data recovery software to get your files back, there are some risks present. Downloading anything from the internet inherently has risks, but free data recovery software can actually make your files unrecoverable if you’re not careful. Choose your software wisely will protect both your lost data and any files you can still access.
In the worst-case scenario, call in a professional data recovery specialist—especially if your hard drive has physical damage. Trying to fix physical damage yourself can lead to completely unrecoverable data. For data recovery, it never hurts to be too careful.