Previously, we wrote a blog called Data after death that asks the question: Where does all your personal and professional data go after you’re gone?  But what about the everyday disappearance of data? We sometimes treat our delete button like a magic wand, uncertain of the back story but sure that our words are gone forever once we click the X.

But where does it really go and is it possible to recover deleted data?  Here are the answers to those questions.

What happens to your data when you delete it?

When you delete data, it’s never “fully” deleted—at least, not immediately.  Instead, deleting a file sends all of the information contained in that file to a temporary state where those words, pictures, videos, etc. can be “overwritten”. So deleting is not really a magic wand, but a system of overwriting where data is auctioned off and replaced with new data.

Vsauce, a top science and education channel on YouTube, explains deleted data by saying it’s like taking a chapter out of the table of contents but not removing the chapter out of the book itself.  Until a new chapter is written and placed on top of the old chapter, the old content will always be there.  In this case, “make deletes deletion.” (Vsauce)

To fully delete data, you would have to completely overwrite the “deleted” data with new data. However, even in instances where a hard drive has been filled to capacity with new data multiple times, the overwritten data can still be recovered given the right set of tools and level of expertise. The integrity of the data and the files found at the bottom of all of those layers of overwriting is more questionable, and even the best tools out there can’t always a recover a perfect picture of data that’s been overwritten too many times.

If you’re not so comforted by the ghost of data past and want to complete eliminate your history, you can always destroy the hard drive—shred it, melt it down, or pulverize it. This is the only guaranteed way to prevent the layers from being peeled back to find the original information.

What happens when you try to recover deleted data?

Once you hit the delete button, you send your data into a temporary state of ‘sort of deleted and sort of not.’  As we mentioned above, deleted data can be recovered by someone with the right skills, but speed matters.  The sooner you attempt to recover deleted data, the better your odds are of finding the data in its entirety.  How much your data has been overwritten will determine how closely it resembles the original data or if the file itself is too corrupted to be opened.

The process of data recovery can be extremely expensive and not entirely effective (think thousands of dollars on recovering only bits and pieces of some data).  The risk of losing data makes it crucial to fully backup your data, both professionally and personally.

For personal data, you can use a service like Dropbox or CrashPlan.  These solutions are capable of safeguarding your documents, music, photos, and videos for the long haul and typically require a low monthly or annual fee.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution in the business space. Different businesses need different retention lengths (Do you want to save the data in its original form for 14 days or 2?) Some businesses need the ability to spin their data up right away in the case of a loss, whereas others can afford a less expensive solution that would require more downtime. Here at Aldridge, we specialize in Cloud Backup and Continuity services, and built custom-fit solutions to every client’s environment.

You don’t have to be anxious about your data after delete – whether you want it gone forever or want to make sure you have a recovery plan. Contact a firm principle today.