Overwritten file data recovery

A lost novel and an overwritten file

We recently had a query from an author about a half-written novel which had been lost from their computer. Their daughter had accidentally edited the file containing the novel, and replaced the entire contents with a school project of almost the same size.

Novel lost due to overwritten file

The writer had already sent the hard disk drive to another data recovery company but they were unable to recover any of the novel from the hard drive. After this the writer contacted us at Cambridge Data Recovery to provide a second opinion.

Locating the missing text

Because the file still existed, but just contained the wrong data (an overwritten file), we had to search the hard drive at a low level to locate text from the missing novel. Within 2-3 days we were able to recover the first 21 chapters of the missing work completely. This was around 85% of the total, and it turned out to be the most important part of the novel because the more recent chapters could more easily be re-written from memory.

This could have seemed like a lost cause as the file had not simply been accidentally deleted, but had actually had its contents replaced. But it was ultimately successful because a copy of most of the data was still present and we have tools to locate this data. We are always happy to have a look at hard drives to see whether the data can be recovered, even if the hard drive has previously been to another data recovery company.


Overwritten files cannot generally be recovered, but in this case parts of the overwritten file were found in other places on the hard drive – this is often the case with Microsoft Word documents, so it is worth attempting recovery even if it seems unlikely to be successful.

Dr Dominic Wilson

Moving to a larger hard drive

There are various reasons you might wish to replace your hard drive with a larger one. You might be running out of space on your drive, and in the case of a laptop you almost certainly don’t have the ability to add a second drive. Or you might be getting signs that your old drive is about to fail, and wish to move your data across before it does so. In fact, with laptops of more than a couple of years old which have seen heavy use, moving to a new hard drive may be a very good idea because the newer hard drive will be less likely to fail, and you will be left with a snapshot of the current state on your old drive, as well as the opportunity to increase the available space.

The way to copy the data to the new drive while retaining a working system is to use backup software such as Acronis TrueImage (other software is available, including free software, but we found Acronis is reasonably efficient). You should make a backup of the entire hard drive (which probably contains multiple partitions) onto an external hard drive. Your backup software will probably create a single large file containing all the data, so probably needs to be formatted as NTFS (or HFS/HFS+ in the case of Apple systems) rather than FAT.

Once you have the file you can use your backup software’s Restore function to restore the data onto your new, blank hard drive. The easiest way to do this if you just have the one computer is to obtain a SATA USB caddy which enables the drive to be connected as another external drive. Once you have completed this step then the new drive should be able to function as a replacement internal drive in the computer.

However, in many cases (including Acronis) the new drive will appear as the same size in your system, because even if the drive itself is larger, the partitions on the original drive will be exactly replicated. If you are happy to have an additional partition on the drive, appearing as a different drive letter, then you use the Windows Control Panel (or Mac equivalent) to create a new partition. However, if you wish to have a single large partition, then you need a way to enlarge the existing partition to occupy all the free space on the drive.

We have had trouble finding reliable Windows tools for this step. However, GPartEd, a free tool which comes with Linux installations such as Ubuntu, can be used to re-size the partition very easily and quickly. NB This is a potentially dangerous step which risks Total Data Loss and it is important to ensure you have a good working backup before undertaking this step. In this case, we have the old laptop drive to fall back on.

So, if you connect the new drive as an external drive to a Linux system (which could in fact be your usual Windows system with Ubuntu or Knoppix running from a USB key or DVD, available for free online), run GPartEd, and resize the partition to occupy the free space, please ensure that you select the “Align None” option to ensure compatibility with Windows.

Another issue is that if any bad sectors are located on the hard drive being resized then GPartEd will not be able to resize the partition, but will not do any harm to it either. There are ways to force the resize in these cases but it is beyond the scope of this article, and we hope that your brand new drive will not contain bad sectors.

Once the re-size has completed, you should now be able to simply insert the drive into your computer as its new main internal drive, with the system unchanged except for the new free space on the drive.

Dropbox for critical documents

We recommend keeping at least 3 copies of critical documents, at least one of which should be physically removed from the others. One way to achieve this is via an online backup service such as Dropbox.

I personally use Dropbox, because it performs two important tasks. Firstly, it automatically synchronises files between multiple PCs, while also keeping a copy in the cloud. This means that with 2 computers on dropbox, you automatically have 3 copies of the information.

Secondly, for vital files and folders, this enables the current versions to be accessed from multiple locations, including via your smartphone, so it is easy to pick up from home where you left off in the office.

The beauty of Dropbox is that it happens automatically so that even if you are behind with your backups, then at least your critical files will be backed up.

The free version of Dropbox provides 2Gb of storage, but this can be increased to 2.5Gb by signing up via this referral link: Dropbox. There are also other ways to further increase the amount of storage. This is typically not enough for a photo collection, but may well suffice for all your accounting documents, family history files, or other irreplaceable information.

Floppy disks on the rise

Recently we have received more enquiries regarding transferring data from floppy disks onto modern media. Many people still have important data stored on floppies, and often find that they have no means of accessing the data.

Most of the floppy disks we see are 10 to 20 years old, and often exhibit problems such as particular files being unreadable, or the floppy disk apparently being unformatted. We can transfer the floppies onto CD or other media, but we recommend that if you have any floppy disks, it is better to attempt the transfer sooner rather than later. Currently the vast majority of floppy disks we receive can be safely transferred, but the older the disks become, the more likely it is that problems will arise.

For more information we have a page on floppy disk transfer.

Fake SSD drives

There’s an interesting story on reghardware about a fake 500Gb SSD drive purchased in China. It turns out that the drive just contained a 128Mb USB key and some clever software to enable data written to the drive to be recorded in a loop. Sadly no chance of recovery of the lost data with a drive like this.

SMS Backup on Android Phones

There is an issue with all the stored SMS messages spontaneously disappearing on some Android phones such as the HTC Desire. I recommend SMS Backup+ available for free on Android Marketplace, for automatically backing up your SMS messages up to GMail. It creates a label “SMS” which contains all your messages, including MMS, and allows restore of SMS messages back to the phone in the event of your messages disappearing.

Implementing a Backup Strategy

As a data recovery professional I should know more than anyone the importance of backing up files. But I am now going to make an admission: as I write this, neither my personal laptop at home, nor any of my family’s computers, are adequately backed up.

Why on earth did I allow this to happen? Part of the reason is that we recently lost both the main laptops, one to a flood and the other to motherboard failure. In one case the hard drive itself was irreparably damaged, in the other case the drives were fine. Thankfully, I had a regular backup strategy so lost nothing of importance. Since then, we have two replacement laptops, but despite several months having passed, my own machine is not backed up at all, and the other machine has only been backed up very occasionally when I remember to do so.

The loss of the computers should if anything have reminded me of the importance of a backup strategy, but implementing a backup strategy is very like writing your will. In both cases, significant effort is involved, but there is no return on your investment, until or unless the worst actually happens. At that point, your decision to make the effort is of utmost importance, but while we believe the worst will never happen, we can put off the onerous tasks indefinitely, because we do not have the time owing to all the vastly more urgent other tasks that are competing for our attention.

This is not to say that I have not attempted to sort out my backup situation. In fact I did attempt to install Acronis TrueImage on my machine, a backup solution I have relied on for years, and which has saved my data on more than one occasion. And I should add, that Acronis also allows the whole system configuration to be backed up, as well as files and folders themselves, so that it is a simple job to restore your system after a hard drive failure, to exactly how it was last time the backup ran. I also particularly like the way that the backup files can be mounted as a logical drive, so that you can see your backed up files inside the archive.

However, it seems that the particular version of Acronis which I used was incompatible with Windows 7, despite information which appeared to indicate the contrary, so I spent some time on and off attempting to install this version, and hence delayed putting a proper backup plan into place. This is how I find myself in a situation where my backups are totally inadequate, and today is the day I will act to change this. I write this in hope that these words will encourage you, my reader, to do the same, if you too are in a similar situation.

After some research I have concluded that the free software Comodo Backup is one of the best free solutions. It produces backup files which can be mounted as logical drives. It allows backups to external drives, or across the network, or even to an ftp site. It allows backup onto CD or DVD. It allows you to back up the registry and machine settings as well as files and folders. It supports encryption of backups, and a mixed backup strategy using several different media, e.g. backups scheduled both to an external drive and an online storage space. It even allows important files to be sent by e-mail as part of the backup process. And as with most backup software, it allows backups to be scheduled.

Another piece of software to consider is Comodo Time Machine. This is not backup software, but instead allows you to revert to a previous version of the system configuration, just like the Windows restore option, but in a much more flexible way. The windows restore function has allowed me to restore computers from a virtually non-functional state to a fully working system in the past, but is limited in various ways, and Comodo Time Machine provides a simpler and more powerful solution.

I would also urge you the reader to consider other backup solutions such as Acronis TrueImage Home. This is currently on the PC Pro A List, and has been given a top rating by PC Pro. The latest version at time of writing is Acronis TrueImage Home 2011 currently available for under £30. It is worth reading the features on offer and comparing with the free software such as Comodo, to come to a decision as to which is the most appropriate software for your needs. Features offered by Acronis include Acronis Nonstop Backup, i.e. continuous monitoring of changed files, and backing up of these files, without having to run a scheduled backup, and also backup to a VHD (Virtual Hard Drive) file, so that you can have a full copy of your hard drive in a file which can be used with a Virtual PC. These are impressive and potentially very useful features. However, it’s worth noting that some reviews on amazon indicate users have had problems, and PC Pro recommend trialling the software for the 30 day free trial to make sure it works well for you.

Please also see our article Backing up to an external hard drive and note that the prices of external drives are now so low that – particularly in conjunction with free backup software – there is no reason not to be adequately backed up.

If you have successfully implemented a backup strategy as a result of reading this article, or if you have any other feedback, please do drop us an email at mailto:info@cambridgedatarecovery.co.uk or contact us via our contact form. And we would be delighted to hear from anyone who has successfully restored their data after a failure, as a result of reading this article – even if that means you do not require our data recovery services.

Backing up to an external hard drive

Hard drives should normally form the main part of your backup strategy, as it is easy to make backups every day, or every few days, onto your backup drive, and keep the backup up to date.

Many different backup programs are available, either commercial software for as little as £20 or £30, or some highly regarded free software. These programs can usually be set up to run scheduled backups so that no action is required to remember to back up. However, if using a laptop as your main computer, this does probably mean that you need either to remember to connect up your external drive in order to run the backup, or else you will need to set up your system to enable backups over your wireless network to a hard drive attached to a desktop PC or to a NAS (network attached storage device). In these cases, you do need to remember to ensure that the device you are backing up to is turned on.

If you do not have backup software, then you can still perform a backup simply by copying the files across manually, or by writing a script to do this. I will be discussing simple backup scripts in another article, but these are in many ways the simplest approach to backup.

Backups can be slow, taking anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. Backing up over a wireless network may be fine when performing an incremental backup (i.e. only the changes since the previous backup), but for performing a full backup, it is likely to be painfully slow to back up over the network. In these cases, connecting a USB hard drive is often the simplest and fastest approach to performing the backup.

It is also worth mentioning online services such as google docs, which can be used to quickly upload important documents to a secure space online. As well as providing an additional backup method which has the advantage of being offsite, it can be invaluable to have access to your documents when away from your own computer.

Hard drive prices have continued to fall, for at least 5 decades. Currently it is possible to pick up portable 1Tb hard drives (only a USB connection required) for around £80, or 2TB desktop drives for as little as £85. And if you wish to add additional storage to your desktop PC, 2TB SATA drives can be obtained from £60. These prices are minimal compared with the cost of recovering data in the event of loss. Here are some links to current good deals.

Toshiba 1TB StorE Art portable drive

Seagate 2TB desktop drive

Western Digital Caviar 2TB SATAII Green drive

London Data Recovery

We are sometimes asked whether we have a London office where hard drives can be delivered for recovery.  At present, however, we only have offices in Cambridge, approximately 1 hour from London by car or train.

We receive hard drives both in person and by post – when sending drives to us by post, we would always recommend sending via Special Delivery or courier, and the hard drive should of course be packaged carefully in a box with padding to protect against impacts.

Please do contact us if you have any concerns about getting your hard drive to us, and we will be happy to provide advice, or even recommend a reputable data recovery company with offices in London, if requested.

We receive hard drives for data recovery, and camera cards for photo recovery from all over the UK – both from local counties (Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, Middlesex, as well as Cambridgeshire), and from distant ones – indeed we seem to receive a large number of memory cards for photo recovery from Scotland.  And we do also receive a few data recovery jobs from Europe, the USA, and even beyond.

New techniques for camera card photo recovery

Over the past 2 or 3 months, we have made exciting steps forward in the recovery of camera cards where the card itself has failed, or has been physically damaged.

In the past, there have been cases where the cards have simply not responded to any attempts to read them, and although we have had techniques for reading from the memory chip directly, the success rates have been disappointing.

Since the end of 2010, we now have new technology which enables us to recover data and photos from almost every type of camera card, by removing the memory chip and accessing this directly.  It is a complex and time-consuming task, and we cannot recover every card we receive because in some cases the chip itself may be damaged or malfunctioning.  However, we are now seeing greatly improved success rates for all types of camera card, where physical recovery is required.

The cost of this type of recovery is significantly higher than for recoveries which can be achieved without opening up the card, so please contact us if you would like more information on these techniques for photo recovery.