Recover deleted files

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Most of us or rather all of us have one day or the other deleted something and regretted it afterwards. Be it an official document, an image file or a sound track. Unless you have a backup somewhere, deleting an important file can make you sleepless for several nights. Worst, if it it’s your entire hard disk; wiped clean after a format !! Pictures of the last get-together among friends, urgent scanned documents that needed to be emailed for a job application or a recipe that you saved after 2 hours of ‘googling’. So, somehow somewhere everybody needs that magical Asterix’s soup to recover these deleted files. Some years back, it was a difficult process or only security personnels/forensics guys had the skills/resources to do it. But now, with the advent of free knowledge, open-source softwares and the boom of developers, many solutions exist for the common computer users; solutions ranging from fake ones that ask you for $100 after a long 1 hours download and 15 minutes to search the files to those free and very good softwares that can compete with the commercial ones.

First of all, one should know how it works. Well, everything that you delete (using the common deleting process) leaves a ‘trace’. Even after formatting a PC and reinstalling an operating system, it is easy to get the files from the previous install. It is this technique that is used by forensics guys to get data back on suspects’ wiped-clean computers. **Solutions do exist to wipe data beyond recovery ;), but this will be dealt with in another post** . So, the recovery software ‘recreates’ the file from the traces left after you deleted it. This is a very simplified explanation of the process (a summarised summary 😛 ); its far more complicated than that, but you need to only know how to use the software; forget about what’s behind the scenes.

Several software packages exist; but I won’t list them here as there are too many of them. Wikipedia has a list of them . I will be dealing with a free software here namely Recuva by Piriform. As paid solution, I recommend RecoverMyFiles by GetData.

Recuva is a freeware data recovery program, developed by Piriform, and runs under Microsoft Windows 7, Vista, XP, 2003, and 2000. It is able to recover files that have been “permanently” deleted and marked by the operating system as free space. The program can also be used to recover files deleted from USB flash drives, memory cards, or MP3 players. – Wikipedia 

Here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to recover data using Recuva.
– For this tutorial, I’ll save an image file on a blank partition on my laptop; will delete it and try to recover it using Recuva –

  • Saved the image file and deleted it ‘permanently’ using keyboard shortcut Shift + Delete
  • Visit to download the software – it’s a 3 Mb file. Install the software.
  • Launch the software.
  • Follow the wizard
  • Select the filetype ( For this example – Pictures ). If you want to recover several types of files during the same recovery process, choose Other.
  • Select the location. The partition where the file was had the drive letter F. It will not be the same for you.
  • Launch the recovery by clicking Start..
  • After digging into the location you specified (a progress bar will be shown. I did not have the time to capture mine as the process ran too quickly due to small file size and little file damage).
  • To recover the file, check the box below the file and click on Recover in the lower right corner of the window. You will be prompted to choose the location where you want the recovered file to be. **Choose any location other than the original location of the recovered file** A message box will open after the recovered file has been saved.

TIP: After you’ve discovered that you have deleted an important file, limit the amount of file transactions in the folder/hard disk where the file was so as to maximise the chances of recovering the file and minimising the chances of file damage.

And Voila !! 😀 We have our file back !!
Note that the during the during of the process may take hours if the file was among hundreds of others. My recent attempt to recover a folder of 200 photos among other files in the My Documents folder for a user required 4 hours. But, do not feel disappointed yet, the feeling after getting the file back is a unique one 🙂