Monday, December 14, 2015

Free File Recovery Tool: PhotoRec

CG Security has a free tool for photo and file recovery called PhotoRec.

You can get it for most file systems as a stand-alone tool which will run in a command-line style interface.

I used it this weekend to recover files for a friend that went missing after his upgrade to Windows 10.  So, a note about that - if you have any data outside your home path, usually C:/users/yourname, you will lose it when you upgrade to Windows 10 unless you take steps to back it up.  

In my friend's case, the files were still on his computer, by the grace of God, and not actually over written with new data by the installation of Windows.  

I will make a guess that if you're reading this post, you've lost some files (or more likely have a friend who has) so let's review a couple of things everyone should do before the walk-through.

1. Always back up your data.  Put on another computer, a server, a cloud service such as Windows One Drive, or DropBox or Google Drive or set up a home backup server.

2. Use an automated tool to make your file backups, wait for it..., automatic.  There's nothing worse than having spent money or time on a backup solution that provides no benefit because you forgot to use it.

3. On Windows, as with Linux, User files should always be kept in the user's home directory.

So, a quick how-to for Photo-Rec, in this case, on a Windows Laptop that offered 2 USB ports.

1. Download the tool to a USB drive from which you will run it.

2. scrounge up a couple of extra USB drives for recovered data.

3. Boot the system and plug in the USB drives.

4. Run Photo Rec, follow the default selections for the most part, and then navigate to your second USB drive and use it as the target for recovering your data.

It's pretty much that simple.  I suggest, though, investigating the file filters before you run the tool.  It will find everything that hasn't been totally obliterated.  Narrowing the search filter will save you time and reduce huge amounts of false positives from winding up in the recovery folders created by the tool.  You will still need to review the recovered data and cherry pick the things you wanted.

We were looking for office documents in our example and found a surprising number of things that were not exactly office documents in our recovered files folder.  You can easily spot the valid files by looking for complete file names and turning on the Author's column in Windows Explorer.  You can also use Windows Search on the recovery target USB drive with advanced options to search for text within the recovered files.  

While this process is pretty easy for a technically capable person, it does require some experience to pull off without making matters worse. If you need a hand, leave a comment - I'm happy to help for a reasonable fee.

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