We’ve all seen those films where the baddie, some disgruntled citizen who’s never had a date, hides his master plan to wreak havoc and peril upon some group who made fun of his haircut in early childhood, all on a flash drive. Then when security forces catch wind of his plan, and he decides to delete the evidence by deleting the files. He assumes all is well, only to find some ‘genius’ in the agency manages to bring back all that info off the drive like magic. While it may be oversimplified in cinema, this can be a reality. Most of us know now that simply deleting a file from a drive doesn’t mean it’s gone forever, and that when the drive indicates there is now ‘space’ to write new files, it is actually writing over old ones.

So this tells us that your deleted or corrupt files, whether done by you or by someone else on purpose or by accident, may be retrieved after the fact. This process done professionally can be time-consuming and costly, and not necessarily the easiest or cheapest thing to do by yourself. A friend asked me to look into something posted on Fstoppers yesterday about a free digital asset recovery app called PhotoRec, and I’m happy to report it seems quite good.


The app, as stated earlier, is free and brought to you by CG Security. It’s also text based, which may appear initially daunting to those of you who never grew up using MS-DOS, but this is quite straight forward. There’s a whole page of instructions to be found here should you need help. Essentially all you have to do is open it, select the drive/disk to be worked on (what you’ll usually identify via size), select it or a partition of it, choose a destination, then press a button and allow PhotoRec to use witchcraft to do the heavy lifting – or digging, as it were.

It was easy to download and use, even given the interface. It will run under most operating systems, and since it essentially ignores the files system of the drive to be worked on (FAT, NTFS…), it can work with it even if that file system is damaged.


[REWIND: 6 Key Mistakes To Avoid When Handling SD Cards to Minimize Data Loss]

Additionally, it doesn’t simply work with memory stick flash drives, but with CD-ROMs, hard disks, and CF and SD cards also, among others, and isn’t restricted to recovering images files, but all manners of files like videos and documents etcetera. See list.

The number and types of occasions where something like this can come in handy are as numerous as they are diverse; you could’ve formatted a card thinking you’d actually already backed it up, your card could be corrupt, and the list goes on. Each scenario as horrifying as the last, and potentially damaging to your business, certainly your sanity, and possibly your liver. It’s highly worth it to keep this tucked away for the inevitable rainy day. Download it here.

P.S. This should also highlight how easy it is for someone to grab your data off old memory drives, so for the love of God, destroy them properly.