Data Recovery Blog 2

Putting Hard Drives to the Test

At the LCDI, we believe your data is important, and surely most would agree. The pictures of your family vacation are important, but what about your passwords? The hard drives that are in most computers store your data, leaving it open for anyone with the proper knowledge to find it and use it if not disposed of properly. This is not a new problem, as online computer news articles from almost 20 years ago described past experiences of people who purchased old hard drives and discovered the data of the last user.

The foundation of our goal is to ensure an understanding of deleting and storing data. Through our research, we have found free and available data recovery programs and sleuth kits to check data drives. Our investigation required a set of samples to test our techniques and programs. We bought a myriad of used hard drives from all over the internet. These previously belonged to other people, so it’s likely that remnants of the past user are still on them. The majority of online sources claim the drives they sell are clean “wiped”, but we’ll put that to the test. How clean can a hard drive be and what do these standards look like?

Using Sleuth Kits to Recover Data

In our last blog post, we explored the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Defense’s deletion standards which would be a clear indicator of security. The drives we purchased allow us to explore the effectiveness of each method compared to each other. After we’ve used the wiping standards, we must test the ease at which someone could recover the deleted data. In the lab, we have been busy looking at the Sleuth Kit tools to get that job done. The software we use is freeware and open ware, ensuring availability without special permission or a fee.

We have gone through a variety of software already, including Autopsy and Wise Data Recovery, two professionally used Sleuth Kits.

Autopsy examining deleted files

In the above image, we have pulled up a sample image file in Autopsy. In this sample, the previous user had deleted 10 images. The tool used a computer image file to carve data present but unlabeled, which we could then review.  The image file we loaded contained the deleted files. Although the computer preserved the data of the file, it lost the links for the file system to access it. These deleted files turned out to be various jpgs of different colors and text. The tool carved the data left within the computer and presented it to us similarly to the sample image below.

Wise Data Recovery loading files

Though this program is not as in depth as Autopsy, Wise Data Recovery was still able to get a good amount of information. This program allowed us to scan the Local C Drive, and we were able to load the files into the program for research and investigation.

These programs are used in professional settings and are free to download. However, the question arises: if these are available to everyone, what does that mean for your data? Anyone who has a computer and a way to attach your drive could snoop through your old data, which is the exact reason we work to share this information. What’s more alarming is these two programs don’t show the full extent of the files that could collect your data. There is no way to be sure that the next person will not have the ability to collect your data, or even how much they could gleam from the drive. 

Exploring Physical Drives and Virtual Machines

The recovery of data is very accessible and it should be taken into account when deleting data. In the coming weeks, we look forward to working with the physical drives and exploring the techniques and depth of data that can be extrapolated from something as small as a picture.

To stay updated with our progress, check out our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

More Research Projects
The Leahy Center Inventory Project
Social Media Footprint Awareness
My Experience on The VPN Comparison Team