Data Recovery Project Goal
This semester, The Leahy Center for Digital Investigation created a project to solve issues related to data recovery. This project shows that the average user often does not truly delete their data, and that it is possible to recover this data without spending money on high end tools, such as EnCase and Axiom. These are tools which range from $1,700 to $4,800 a year. The Data Recovery Team at the LCDI has researched free tools that anyone can use to recover deleted files, whether you are someone who has erased files they need or the next owners of a poorly wiped drive.
Is data ever “deleted”?
PC hard drives often contain data known as Personally Identifiable Information, or PII. This includes names, credit card numbers, addresses and other information important to one’s personal life. This is why true data deletion is so important. The average user doesn’t understand that they’re not actually deleting their data. The fact that this data is not always deleted is what can lead to the leak of the user’s PII when they sell the drive. One can truly delete their data by using the common standards for wiping drives.
Visual vs Actual Deletion
Many people assume that they are deleting the file when it is no longer visible (for example, after it is in the recycle bin). This is never the case. After dragging said file to the bin, the user still needs to empty it. Even when the user empties the bin, the user has not actually deleted the file. When a user drags a file to the Recycle Bin, all that does is remove the link to said file from the user. The user has hidden the data, not deleted it. It will stay available on the computer until that part of the hard drive is overwritten by other files.
Proper Data Recovery Services
To achieve proper data deletion, one needs to use common drive wiping standards, such as US DoD 5220.22-M. This standard implements a three pass system, working as follows:
- First pass: Overwrite all addressable locations with binary “zeroes”.
- Second pass: Overwrite all addressable locations with binary “ones”.
- Third pass: Overwrite all addressable locations with a random bit pattern
- Verify the final overwrite pass.
Another common standard for deleting data is the NIST method. This method describes different types of sanitation for drives, and recommends using more than one type.
One of the most important questions that we at the Data Recovery Team ask is: why does any of this matter? This information can serve to help the user protect their PII. Whether it is by teaching the user how to delete their data, or teaching them how to recover it. This means that a normal user could recover their data without having to spend a lot of money. We understand that sometimes accidents happen and data may get erased unintentionally. Hopefully, with the information that this project will provide, users can retrieve their own lost data.