08 Jan 2018

The recovery of data from fire-damaged hard drives is often difficult, but not impossible. There are a multitude of variables that can affect the outcome of the data retrieval attempt. Some of these variables include if the hard drive or computer had direct or indirect exposure to the fire and the time duration of the exposure. Other factors that can affect the outcome of the recovery efforts will also include if the device was exposed to water, such as from a fire sprinkler system, or hosed down with heavy water pressure by Firefighters that may have combated the flames.

Data Analyzers has the experience and the equipment to recover any hard drive that still has a complete set of intact platters, including fire damaged drives.

How do we do it?

The data recovery process starts with diagnostics and an analysis of the drive itself. Proper analysis is often a critical step which many other companies neglect. One may think that the process is as simple as opening the drive and remove the platters, and then transferring them to another hard drive. In order to clarify the process, we will use two case studies of actual and recent case which we recently and successfully recovered. Let’s get started.

First case study:

This was a Seagate 500GB 2.5-inch hard drive. The Laptop was exposed to a residential fire. During this residential fire the Laptop was left behind and consequently was not only exposed to excessive heat, but also had some temporary exposure to direct flames which had been in excess of 300 degrees Celsius.

One of the challenges, when recovering data from fire-damaged hard drives, is that data starts becoming corrupted or damaged by prolonged exposures to over 200 degrees Celsius. We anticipated that this might have been the case in this situation.

The engineering team had some initial concerns when this hard drive first arrived at our laboratory. The success of a fire-damage data recovery is really dependent on whether or not the platters and ROM chip were affected by the heat and flames. In this particular case, after carefully examining the hard drive, we determined that the PCB (Printer Circuit Board) was burnt beyond repair. However, we were able to clean it well enough to unsolder and read the unique information off the ROM chip. This information was then moved to a donor PCB. After being inspected in our ISO 5 class 100 clean room environment, the platters were found to be unscathed, despite the drive’s outer appearance. While the heat did cause some irrevocable damage to some sectors, the data recovery team was able to clone most of the hard drives’ sectors and recovered all of the client’s data!

Second case study:

The second case, was a Samsung 1TB Desktop hard drive that was exposed to a commercial fire. The engineering team was initially optimistic when the drive was received, as we had been informed that the drive was not exposed to direct flames. This usually indicates less heat and less chances of permanent damage to the hard drive’s platters. Which is what we like to hear.

Yet, once the drive was opened we noticed that it had excessive water contamination to the hard drive’s inner chamber, the hard disk assembly (HDA). This is often caused due to the firefighter’s use of a fire hose to spray water on to the flames.

In addition to the water affecting the platter lubrication layers, and potential oxidation, the water from the fire hose is usually cold and the extreme temperature changes from hot to cold can cause warping of the drive chassis and platters. Therefore, we knew that there could have been some challenges ahead with this data recovery case.

The outside of the drive was cleaned and then taken into our Class 100 ISO 5 Cleanroom environment. A careful inspection revealed that there was water inside of the hard drive and had contaminated the platters. The Platters had to be removed, cleaned with a proprietary solvent and dried. Then the platters had to be moved into a new hard drive, where in addition the damaged read/write heads (head stack assembly) and the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) had to be replaced.

Our team of data recovery engineers was able to extract all of the client’s requested files from this drive and concluded another successful recovery

Conclusion:

Although not impossible, fire-damaged hard drives are often very difficult to recover from and such a process should only be performed by an experienced data recovery lab, to avoid further damage to the device. Hard drive enclosures are usually pretty good at protecting the platters to a certain extent. Nonetheless, issues such as water contamination can quickly cause corrosion of the platters. These are serious situations that need to be resolved quickly in order to perform a successful recovery.

Data Analyzers  has been successfully recovering data from fire-damaged hard drives since 2009. With almost a decade of experience and a proven track record, our team can assist you with the recovery of data from fire damage, water damage, as well as natural disasters. Our recovery process is to open the drive, clean it, and remove the platters, then transplant them to another hard drive. It may sound simple, but it’s not. The drive may also need a skilled engineer to work with the firmware and make the drive readable. To avoid platter contamination, we perform hours of extremely delicate repair work. For our clients, the good news is that recovery rates are usually very high, provided that we get quick access to the drive(s) in question.

If you have a fire damaged drive, call us immediately at 1-866-456-DATA.