Users and IT admins who format a hard disk using Windows Explorer or Disk Utility (MacOS) even when there is important data stored on it. This data would not be backed up onto any other medium.
When the damage is self-inflicted users will be absolutely kicking themselves. They will rebuke themselves for being so careless…This is especially painful if they’ve just bought a new drive and formatted their old one by mistake. Ouch!
However, accidental disk formatting happens to IT admins just as frequently. The IT admin will usually have to do a lot of explaining to a sometimes very irate user.
Automatic pilot mode – Some people will be in automatic pilot mode and will willy-nilly issue a format command without first checking the volume ID of the disk they are about the format. This can easily happen if a user has 3-4 different internal or external disks attached to the host system. It’s really not a good idea to be in automatic pilot mode when formatting disks.
Rushing – Over the years one thing that we’ve noticed with IT admins is that accidental disk or device formatting normally happens on a Friday when there is a rush to complete tickets before the week-end. Back in 1873, Molière wrote that “unreasonable haste is the direct road to error” and that holds true as ever. Really, the formatting of disks needs to be done in a slow and methodical way. Rushing and disk formatting really do not mix.
Can data from an accidentally formatted disk be recovered from?
It depends on a number of factors. The first factor you need to consider is whether your disk is an HDD (hard disk drive) or SSD.
SSD – Accidentally formatting (quick format) an SSD means the probability of permanent data erasure is higher. This is because SSD controller processes such as TRIM and garbage collection optimise space by “cleaning up” any deleted files.
HDD – Accidentally formatting (quick format) a HDD means the probability of successful data recovery is slightly higher. This is because HDDs do not use automatic background clean-up processes on formatted drives.
Other factors – Successful data recovery of an accidentally formatted disk also depends on how full the disk was. When a disk is near-to-full capacity, from our experience, “clean-up” algorithms don’t tend to work as effectively. Also, bear in mind that if you’ve formatted an SSD, the brand / type of disk controller can have a huge influence. For example, Kingston SSDs use some very efficient SSD controllers where formatted data can disappear permanently within minutes.
Good to Know:
If you have accidentally formatted a system using an SSD or an external SSD drive – turn if off immediately. This prevents TRIM and garbage collection processes from running.
Preventing Accidental Formatting of Disks
- Label all disks. You can label them anyway you want. You can name them after Shakespearean characters or after islands in the West of Ireland. The key thing is that you clearly differentiate your disks. Labelling can be done virtually via Windows Explorer or Disk Utility. Or, it can be done physically via a label. We recommend Brother P-Touch handheld labelling devices. They are inexpensive, reliable and quick.
- Disconnect all disks – When performing a format operation on a disk, try to disconnect all other disks from the system.
- Disk serial numbers are your friend – If using third-party software to format disks, the disk name might not appear. However, the disk serial number will be provided instead. This is also printed on the disk label. Use the last four numbers of the label’s serial number to verify that the disk you’re about to format tallies with the number appearing in the software’s GUI.
- Don’t place too much trust in the Cloud – Many IT admins simply place too much trust in Cloud services such as OneDrive, Sharepoint or iCloud. They assume that everything the user needs is there. When in reality, the user might not be syncing their important data to the cloud or there might be a syncing misconfiguration. IT admins needs to login to these services, preferably with the user and verify the data is there before any format operations are executed on an endpoint device.