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Posted on 21 August, 2016 in Blog

Recovering Old Files: Challenge or Lesson to Study?

Informational technology is developing so fast that data we stored only a few years ago is often stuck on old disks with very few drives that are able to read them. Computer forensics experts can uncover old files, sometimes solving crimes along the way.

Computer forensics specialist is investigating an old laptop
Computer forensics specialist is investigating an old laptop

 

When new files relating to the South Yorkshire Police’s handling of the Hillsborough disaster emerged, plenty took the form of dog-eared notebooks and water-damaged folders. But in amongst the evidence handed over to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, there were also 167 floppy disks – containing hundreds of documents that were potentially critical to the investigation.

Paper is a reasonably useful medium; if it gets a bit damp or dirty you can still read the marks that have been made on it. But the same can’t be said for magnetic storage. The exhibits manager for the inquiry, David Wolstencroft, and his team had to purchase an ageing computer in order to read the 5.25-inch floppies – disks much bigger than the 3.5-inch ones most of us remember using on our PCs before they died out, and a medium already well on the way to obsolescence at the time of the 1989 disaster. “We got them all read,” he told the BBC when the analysis was just getting under way in 2013, “and they’ve come back on two small disks [DVDs] that aren’t even full. It’s unbelievable the way technology has changed.”

Old floppy discs may still be a source of important evidences of the old cases
Old floppy discs may still be a source of important evidences of the old cases

 

The process of transferring data from old media such as floppy disks to more modern, readable formats might sound relatively easy, but the transient nature of modern technology can make it hugely problematic. Tracking down and purchasing a computer from the era of shoulder pads and Crocodile Dundee would seem like a promising initial step, but the subsequent journey is uncertain.

 

“If you boot up an old machine,” says Tony Dearsley, Principal Consultant at digital forensics firm Kroll Ontrack, “you have no idea what’s going to happen. It will have been sitting in a cupboard for 15 or 20 years. You’re going to have component failure, capacitors are going to die. Ideally you’d try to avoid doing that altogether.”

 

Attempting to boot up and old PC very often end up at this point
Attempting to boot up and old PC very often end up at this point

 

Our increasing reliance on technology and the related increase in the digital information we all generate has fuelled a massive rise in the number of firms offering digital forensics services. But when old cases are reopened and dusty technology resurfaces, experts face multiple challenges.

Floppy disks, from the 8-inch to the 5.25-inch to the 3.5-inch, become less willing to yield up their contents with every passing day. Even hard disks, which theoretically have some measure of protection from the atmosphere, still experience decay.

Data storage mediums have changed so many times during the last 50 years, that it seems like we are still looking for a perfect way to store the huge volumes of information we generate on a daily basis. And as years go by, the compatibility of data carriers and readers becomes a bigger and bigger problem. If only data archiving would be somehow standardized, then we would we most likely not face such challenges anymore?

Many kinds of sensitive data have to be stored and preserved in a way that can be easily accessed after years, decades or even centuries. As has been touched upon already, paper is a good medium of storage, but it has a number of disadvantages: beginning from large physical volume per unit of information and ending with poor level of environmental influence resistance.
Century Archival DVDs are able to secure data for hundreds of years
Century Archival DVDs are able to secure data for hundreds of years

 

Data storage experts agree that as of today, there is no better alternative for optical media in data archiving. Professional archival grade DVDs and CDs with gold and platinum layers are able to secure data for centuries, fact proven by a number of professional tests under severe environmental conditions.

Falcon Technologies International has a specially designed product line called Century Archival, that is a perfect solution for a long term data storage. It is not only a cost-efficient solution, but also a guarantee of secure and lasting data storage.