Oh My Tech!: For a price, lost flash drive data can be retrieved

By Vince Horiuchi

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: August 23, 2012 09:39PM
Updated: November 30, 2012 11:33PM
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Vince Horiuchi

Is there any hope for retrieving files from a flash drive (memory stick) that the computer will not read? I’ve tried the flash drive in three different computers. I can get the light to come on (it glows amber when the computer is reading it) but no luck in accessing the files. Is all hope lost? Thanks. — Jean Lown, Logan.

Remember what Tim Robbins’ character wrote to Red (played by Morgan Freeman) in “The Shawshank Redemption”?

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

OK, now that I’ve soothed everyone’s nervous thoughts with a rather hackneyed use of a movie quote, just know that the data definitely is recoverable. But it sounds as though we’re dealing with a hardware problem in which the USB drive is faulty, given that you tried it on a number of different computers.

This is a case where you might want to call a data recovery service. There are a number in Utah, and there are plenty that do it through the mail.

These are computer forensics firms that take any storage device, whether it’s a hard drive or flash drive, and get the data off the device for a price. In some cases, they even can retrieve the data from a drive that’s been damaged, say by water or fire, by using sophisticated hardware and software that looks at the contents and can copy them to a new drive.

I called several companies after doing a Google search, and they all said they could retrieve the information from flash drives if the memory stick fails to work.

It’s the same kind of service that helped Wired technology writer Mat Honan recover precious pictures of his newborn daughter from his laptop after hackers remotely wiped clean his Macbook Pro. He wrote about the incident earlier this month.

Honan contacted a service called DriveSavers Data Recovery, which was able to rescue all of his pictures and video from his computer, which he failed to back up. But here’s the downside: It cost him a whopping $1,690 to get that data back.

The services I contacted said they could recover data from a 16-gigabyte flash drive or smaller for anywhere from $100 to about $600, depending on the level of damage to the drive. That’s a lot of money. But whatever Jean has on her drive may be worth more.

With mail order services, you simply send them your drive, and they will return it in about a week or two with the data on a disk or on new flash drive.

There are data recovery software programs out there that claim to retrieve data from drives. But I’ve never tried one and don’t know if they really work. Nor have I been able to find reviews of any to see which ones actually might.

But if the data is sensitive and important to Jean, it might be best left up to the professionals and data recovery services. In reading about software retrieval, one danger seems to be that the do-it-yourself method could destroy the data permanently if you don’t know what you’re doing or if you use faulty software.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he’ll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.