Recovering Data from External Storage

Read about recovering data from network storage (NAS) and external USB or eSata disks formated in FAT or NTFS. Various types of external storage quickly gain popularity. External storage systems are easier to maintain, upgrade and extend than computers’ built-in hard drives. They can be shared over the network safer and easier than computer hard disk drives. They can be conveniently placed and connected via a convenient link. Finally, users can add huge storage capacities to their laptops and mobile devices, which would otherwise be completely impossible.

Recovering Data from External Storage

However, the huge storage capacities of today’s external storage systems bring up a question of storage safety. What will you do if some component in your remote storage fails? What if a remote user deletes some of your files? What if a planned upgrade turns into a data loss situation?

This article discusses the various types of remote storage systems, and tells about ways to recover data from most of them.

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USB and eSATA Enclosures

The simplest and most common type of remote attached storage is plain USB enclosure holding a single hard drive. A little bit less common are eSATA (External SATA) enclosures providing much higher speeds and better functionality compared to their USB counterparts. For example, eSATA enclosures support the SSD TRIM protocol, while USB enclosures don’t.

These enclosures exist in 2.5” and 3.5” form factors. The former are designed to hold a laptop hard drive (or a typical SSD drive), and are normally powered off the USB link. The latter are usually stationary devices powered from an external power supply.

When connected to the PC, USB and eSATA enclosures appear as new drive letters. They can be read and written to as normal hard drives, albeit USB enclosures are a little slower (unless you’re using a USB3 type enclosure and a compatible PC).

If something happens to your data, recovering files from the disk located in a USB/eSATA enclosure looks and works exactly the same as recovering information from a built-in hard drive. Use an appropriate data recovery tool, choose your drive letter and hit “Go!”.

Network Attached Storage

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Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems are extremely popular. They typically connect to your LAN via an Ethernet or Wi-Fi link, providing extended storage capacities to all users of your home (or office) network. NAS storage systems can be used to stream content over the air, allowing you to listen to the music from your iPhone or watch videos from your big-screen TV.

To further extend available storage, NAS devices often use more than a single hard drive. Inside the device, the multiple disks are normally mounted as a RAID array – but sometimes not, depending on the particular NAS model, its configuration and user settings. The ability to use multiple hard drives makes multi-disk NAS easily upgradeable and extendable. You can easily add more space to your system by just sliding another disk into the NAS device.

NAS storages can use different file systems. There are drives working on Linux (using FAT or one of the variations of the EXT2 / EXT3 file system) and even Android.

Recovering data from healthy NAS systems is no different to recovering files from regular hard drives. Make sure the NAS is mounted and appears as a drive letter in your PC, then use an appropriate data recovery tool to undelete files and recover data.

Recovering data from failed RAID-type NAS devices is completely another matter.

Oleg Afonin

Author: Oleg Afonin, Technical Writer

Oleg Afonin is an expert in mobile forensics, data recovery and computer systems. He often attends large data security conferences, and writes several blogs for such resources as, Elcomsoft and Habr. In addition to his online activities, Oleg’s articles are also published in professional magazines. Also, Oleg Afonin is the co-author of a well-known book, Mobile Forensics - Advanced Investigative Strategies. Read more

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