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Beginners Guides: Flash Memory Data Recovery and Protection

Beginners Guides: Flash Memory Data Recovery and Protection - PCSTATS
Abstract: One of the major benefits of flash memory is that they are compatible with many of the data recovery programs designed to retrieve accidentally deleted files from computer hard disks.
Filed under: Beginners Guides Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: PCSTATS Apr 06 2011   Mike Dowler  
Home > Reviews > Beginners Guides > PCSTATS

Flash Data Loss... or Theft

Next to accidental deletion, the most common way to lose data from any kind of portable memory device is to lose the device itself. The best data recovery tools in the world won't help if the flash drive has dropped from one's pocket onto the sidewalk. Data recovery is out of the question here, but there are steps you can take to ensure that valuable data is useless to whoever eventually finds the your former possession. Many USB drives will come pre-installed with data encryption programs, so that partitions can be set up on the device for secure and non-secure file storage. Major companies like Kingston, Crucial and SanDisk usually offer such extra's at no charge with their products, small manufacturers selling USB memory may not.

Data Corruption

Almost all flash memory devices use some form of 'hot pluggable' interface to connect them with the various electronic devices they support. Hot pluggable means that the memory can be attached and removed from a powered-on device without fear of damage or hardware failure. USB is the most obvious example of this technology, and one that we are all familiar with. The one problem with this type of interface is the sense of invulnerability it engenders in the user. We become so accustomed to inserting and removing our flash memory devices at will that we often forget to make sure that all data transfer tasks have stopped first.

There is no surer way to mess up a portable storage device than to yank it out of its socket when it is halfway through an operation...

Unlike most other forms of media, flash memory devices are commonly used in a variety of devices. Digital cameras, media players, DA players, DVD players and an assortment of other electronic devices all can use these flexible storage tools. With this flexibility can come problems though. While all flash memory compatible devices share a few common traits like a FAT file system to write to the card, they can differ vastly in terms of expectation and execution. If you routinely shuttle your storage devices between an array of different electronics, you may be setting yourself up for future problems

The file system on your typical Windows XP computer is a robust thing, well equipped to handle the complexities of reading, writing and erasing data on a small piece of portable flash memory. The file system on your three year old digital camera? Not so much... Simple devices like this want to be able to write images to a storage device, read images off the same device and erase them when necessary. They may not deal well with unsupported files, data which has been added by other devices and other abstractions.

Wear and Tear

As mentioned above, flash memory has a finite lifespan measured in erase and write cycles. That is to say, a specific block of NAND memory can only be written to and erased x number of times before it fails to reliably store data. In modern flash devices, this number generally extends to millions of operations, and longevity is further ensured by an algorithm built into the supporting circuitry of the memory that forces data to be written evenly across the available memory blocks, preventing one area of memory from becoming more 'worn' and failing faster. Supplementing this is another system which ensures that 'worn' sectors are mapped out of the grid of available memory, similar to the method used to deal with bad sectors in hard disk drives.

Flash memory can and does wear out though. While a typical USB drive or memory card should last years or decades of typical use, exposing flash media to more read-write intensive operations like running an operating system or hosting applications will cause premature wear and tear and the eventual failure of the device.

Many flash memory devices are even more susceptible to the physical wear and tear which comes with constant use. Devices like USB flash drives are handled and used continuously, and are often not made to take much abuse.

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Contents of Article: PCSTATS
 Pg 1.  Beginners Guides: Flash Memory Data Recovery and Protection
 Pg 2.  The Perils of Portable Memory
 Pg 3.  — Flash Data Loss... or Theft
 Pg 4.  Recovering Erased Data From a Flash Memory Device
 Pg 5.  Recovering data from a Formatted Device
 Pg 6.  Using CGSecurity PhotoREC
 Pg 7.  Attempting recovery of data from a corrupted drive

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