Nov 132012

Hard drive

We all as consumers got used to the fact that generally goods and services have to be certified and licensed. For example, visiting a dentist, we take for granted that the dentist has sufficient qualifications confirmed by a diploma, certificates, and so on. It seems that the more complex the field, the more imperative it is to have the certification.

Let’s look into the field of data recovery. Below is the list of main requirements for a specialist to work there:

  • Understand the computer hardware at the advanced level, data storage devices in-and-out – how they are organized and how they operate.
  • Know the internal structure of various file-systems  preferably a dozen of them. Have programming skills enough either to develop complex software or at least to understand how data recovery software works.

Does it sound as a high-tech field? No doubt, but surprisingly there is no widely-accepted and recognized certification or licensing in data recovery.

In this post I will discuss how is it that there is no certification, what it leads to, and how to find a trusted data recovery company.

Why there is no certification

Licensing in general is not possible because data recovery consists mostly of state-of-the-art techniques and trade secrets. Approximately every five years fundamentally new algorithms and new filesystem analysis techniques are created in data recovery. In this connection, it is unclear who could decide which data recovery company complies with the criteria or which doesn’t, and what criteria should be used.

The consequences of the lack of licensing

The fact that there is no licensing in data recovery leads to both good and bad consequences.

On the one hand, it is good since allows developing data recovery software having nothing but brains.

On the other hand, it is bad since allows semiskilled people to work in data recovery and take money from their clients. In common cases, data recovery software doesn’t further damage the disks. This leaves you a chance to continue the recovery with some other data recovery software, or maybe try other options. In case of data recovery services, once the cover is removed from the disk, inadequate skills or equipment kill the chance to a second recovery attempt.

Whom to trust?

When choosing a data recovery company you should take into account many various factors, from capabilities of data recovery software the company offers to professionalism of data recovery specialists responsible for technical support. Let’s list the main points that are worth focusing at.

Choose the company with name

Typically, those data recovery companies that are going to be in business for a long time and gain a good reputation tend to name the company and software by the unique and memorable names. The purpose of this as in any other business is to achieve recognition and appreciation of the brand. So for example just a combination of words “data recovery software” cannot be the name of a trusted data recovery software or company. On the one hand, it will be difficult to find user’s review about such “nameless” company due to too generic a name. On the other hand, such a generic name plays into the hands of those companies that provide poor quality data recovery service – no one will know about it.

Blog, forum, or knowledge base

Usually a trusted data recovery company provides technical support constantly for the clients and customers coming with complex recovery cases. Moreover, such a company both constantly improves its data recovery software and develops new recovery algorithms. Often all this work is reflected in its blog or forum, or a combination of both.

Also at the site of a trusted data recovery company you can find a lot of useful information not only about products and services the company offers but general information about data recovery: filesystem specifics, the latest developments in this filed and so on. This type of information can be placed either in the “knowledge base” section or just as the articles on the site.

Those companies where professional sellers rather than data recovery specialists work cannot afford to have constantly updated technical content on the site.

Refund policy

For the last many years we have become accustomed to the fact that at the software market there is a policy of 30 days money back. In data recovery this is known as no data – no fee policy. However, recently the situation has changed for worse. Surprisingly, I have noticed that many players at the data recovery software market do not adhere to this policy any longer. Once you received a license key, you cannot get a refund because it is supposed that an evaluation version is enough to estimate the quality of the recovery.

Therefore if you want to get money back with no problems in case of unsuccessful recovery you should pay attention to the refund policy the company adheres to. Note that if you deal with a data recovery lab, the situation is more complex; often there is a non-refundable fee for the case investigation even if they are not able to recover data.

Reviews in magazines

You can look at the reviews on different computer sites or magazines, but you should be aware that it is not so easy to set the conditions for the test. A test sample must be similar to the real device with the real data. However, a person doing the test usually doesn’t know what criteria should be used to provide similarity to the real data. The simplest criteria are device capacity, the number of files, the ratio of files to folders, and entropic characteristics of data. Often data recovery software working successfully on one sample of the test data may fail on another set. Furthermore, a data recovery test involving real amount of data may take several days, so usually review tests in magazines are made using USB thumb drives or smallish hard drives. Typically, these tests simulate the recovery in case of a single deleted photo from a memory card. However, this simulation doesn’t reflect the real-life software behavior outside the small scale models, for example, when you have to recover a NAS of eight disks. Thus, you have to watch if the test conditions to the review reflect your actual task at hand.

Personal recommendations

In the world of software in general, and in data recovery particular, personal recommendations are one of the most common ways to find a provider. People either ask their friends or post a topic on their favorite forums. Perhaps, in general, it is a right way. The only thing they might lose with this approach is a chance to find something new not yet widely known, but probably more modern both in terms of user interface and the algorithms used.

As for data recovery services, personal recommendations are probably the only way to identify a trusted company since comments and reviews that people leave at different outlets are quite often faked. Additionally, there are no independent reviews of data recovery services; even if such a review exists it will be difficult to trust it. Data recovery software that can be downloaded from the sites is the same for all the people – both for home users and for magazine editors. Services of a data recovery lab can differ depending on the importance and wealth of the client; in a pinch, they can even redirect the case to a more competent lab and then attribute success to themselves.

Bottom line

I think that you should not take this article as a strict instruction to find a trusted data recovery provider. As usual, there are exceptions from every rule. Just take the above as a good starting point.

Written by Elena Pakhomova of, specializing in data recovery solutions for storage devices from MicroSD to Bigfoot hard drive, you name it.

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  • William V

    This is a good primer on searching for data recovery. Excellent point on being skeptical of any service with “data” or “recovery” in its name. As for online recommendations, the hardest place to create fake reviews is probably LinkedIn. I’d evaluate a data recovery company there. Not only can you see who recommends the company (or not) but you should be able to see who or how many people actually work there. A good lab should not charge any evaluation fee or anything if the client isn’t happy with the recovered data. Lastly, I agree with the point about being sure all the work is done by the lab. If it’s being sent somewhere else, why not just send it there yourself?

    • Justin Germino

      You make an excellent point about LinkedIN being a more professional network, and is a good source to do some digging for information, reviews and company investigation.

  • Tyler

    surprised to learn that there is no licensing!