The client in this case study had owned a Western Digital My Book external hard drive. The drive had worked fine, up until its USB port broke. The client removed the hard drive from its external enclosure to recover its data through a direct SATA port. But when they plugged the hard drive in, their computer detected the hard drive as “raw”. The data on the drive was still inaccessible. The client brought their hard drive to Gillware Data Recovery for our WD My Book data recovery services.
WD My Book Data Recovery Case Study: Raw Hard Drive Recovery
Drive Model: Western Digital WD10EADS-22M2B0
Drive Capacity: 1 TB
Operating System: Windows
Situation: USB port on Western Digital My Book broke. After removing the hard drive from its enclosure and plugging it in via SATA port, drive detected as “raw”.
Type of Data Recovered: Photos, documents, videos, and music
Binary Read: 33.4%
Gillware Data Recovery Case Rating: 10
A “raw” hard drive is simply another term for an unformatted hard drive. When you buy a brand new internal hard drive, it starts out as raw. Brand new external hard drives, on the other hand, typically come pre-formatted by the manufacturer so they can put all sorts of goodies on the drive for their consumers.
When your hard drive suddenly shows up as raw out of the blue, some sort of logical corruption is often to blame. Boot sector corruption, or even firmware corruption, can make a hard drive appear to be unformatted. A raw hard drive can also be suffering from a physical issue as well, which may escalate if the owner tries to mess with the drive for too long.
Full-disk encryption can also make a hard drive become “raw”. On a fully-encrypted hard drive, little to no data on the drive makes even the tiniest bit of sense without the proper encryption credentials. If somebody tries to access the drive without those credentials—for example, removing the drive from one computer and hooking it up to another—the drive will show up as “raw”.
Especially if this encryption is invisible, these situations can be quite mystifying to the end user. Western Digital in particular has its own form of hardware-based full-disk encryption that makes a hard drive removed from its casing turn into a raw hard drive.
Western Digital My Book and My Passport hard drives have a feature called “SmartWare”. WD SmartWare is a form of hardware-based full-disk encryption. The encryption is built right into the drive, instead of relying on software like BitLocker. In My Book external drives, the very same USB-SATA bridging dongle that can so easily break (see our guest blog on planned obsolescence in external hard drives) also handles on-the-fly decryption.
In WD external drives, the encryption exists, whether or not the user chooses to password-protect their drives. Because of this, if you pull the hard drive out of an external My Book enclosure and attempt to hook it up via SATA cable, your computer ends up reading encrypted data. To your computer, the vast majority of the data on the drive is unintelligible gobbledygook—making the drive show up as “raw”.
However, as long as the user has not password-protected their data, there are work-arounds for circumventing the SmartWare encryption. Without a unique password blocking access to the data, our WD My Book data recovery specialists can use a few special tricks to recover data from inaccessible WD My Book drives with a high rate of success.
Our hard drive recovery technicians took a look at the client’s hard drive. Our evaluation found that, in addition to the SmartWare encryption making the drive show up as raw, this raw hard drive was also suffering from a glitch in its firmware. Firmware allows the hard drive to do its job. Essentially, it’s the “operating system” of the hard drive itself, regulating the drive’s behavior and managing how the user accesses data on the device. When a piece of it goes bad—which can happen for a whole host of reasons—the drive can become completely inaccessible.
Aside from the firmware bug, the hard drive seemed fairly healthy. After one of our skilled firmware repair specialists carefully repaired the drive’s firmware, our data recovery technicians could work around the drive’s SmartWare encryption to recover the client’s data.
Once our firmware specialist had successfully fixed the hard drive’s firmware corruption, our recovery technicians worked to circumvent SmartWare encryption. We managed to recover all of the client’s unencrypted data. This WD My Book data recovery case was a 10 on our ten-point case rating scale.