Mobile Phone Data Recovery

We are more glued to our phones now than ever before. The modern smartphone is a miniature Internet-enabled computer, capable of keeping you in touch with family and friends no matter the distance. People are storing increasing amounts of data on their phones, from text and voice messages and contacts to pictures, videos, and music. Of course, being so small and so frequently-used, phones are vulnerable devices. They can be dropped onto a hard surface or into a pool, lake, toilet, etc. They can be stepped on or run over. Water can get spilled on them. Or they can just die on you. If you’ve lost critical data on your smartphone, the phone data recovery experts at Gillware can help you.


Where Does Data Live on Your Phone?

Compared to computers, a smartphone’s inner workings are a mystery to most people. Generally, the data on your phone can live in two places. Connected to your phone’s motherboard is an eMMC or eMCP chip. These are a special kind of NAND flash memory chip ideal for devices such as smartphones. Smartphones also have a hidden slot for a microSD card. Not all smartphones come with microSD cards preinstalled, but they are somewhat easy to install, remove, and replace. It only takes a minute or so of simple disassembly.

Your phone’s settings determine which data goes where. If your phone has a microSD card in addition to its embedded flash memory chip, your phone may send all of its photos and videos to the SD card and use its eMMC card for data such as contacts, text messages, etc. But unless you poke around in your phone’s internal storage settings, it’s not immediately apparent which data goes where. Regardless of whether or not there is a microSD card inside your phone, your phone appears to you and your computer to be a single storage device.

What Are eMMC and eMCP Chips?

nside a USB flash drive or solid-state drive are the NAND chip(s) and a controller chip. The chips are soldered to a printed circuit board. All of the data inside the drive lives on the NAND chips, but not in a form you would recognize. When data passes through the controller chip, the controller organizes the data into something you can make sense of.

Inside your phone, however, is a different type of NAND flash memory chip. The eMMC, or embedded multimedia card, has its controller integrated into the chip itself. You’ll never find an eMMC chip inside a solid-state drive; their performance is far slower than normal NAND chips. But eMMC chips are preferred for phones and more affordable models of tablet.

eMMC chips are cheaper to produce than normal NAND chips, and have a size advantage as well. An eMMC chip frees up space on the PCB and allows the manufacturers to work with even smaller form factors. And an eMCP chip frees up even more space than an eMMC chip, because the RAM chip is integrated into it as well as the controller. While still slower than the NAND chips in your SSD, eMCP chips offer improved performance over eMMC chips.

Mobile Phone Data Recovery

In the vast majority of mobile phone data recovery cases, the phone has to be completely disassembled. This is the only way to get at the eMMC or eMCP chip. After the phone has been stripped down, our mobile phone technicians can remove the chip. The chip can then be popped into a chip reader and imaged. Because the eMMC chip has a controller integrated into it, this is a simpler process than the raw NAND flash memory dump used for some other solid state memory recovery situations. Reading an eMMC chip (with the proper tools) isn’t much different from reading an SD card.

If, for some reason or another, the memory chip cannot be removed from the motherboard, our engineers can use the JTAG data extraction method. The JTAG method allows data to be read from the memory chip without removing the chip from the phone’s motherboard. Wires are connected to specific contact points on the motherboard that lead directly into the chip. Many phone manufacturers disable JTAG access before the phones are assembled and shipped off. However, when it can be used, it is a powerful data recovery technique.

Salvaging data from mobile phones can be tricky. Every model of phone is built and programmed just a little differently. Our mobile phone technicians often test data recovery methods on identical “dummy” models. At Gillware, our data recovery experts use forensics tools such as Cellebrite in conjunction with our own proprietary data recovery software tools to access and salvage data from smartphones.

Your phone isn’t formatted for Mac or Windows (unless your phone uses Microsoft’s Windows 10 Mobile O/S). Rather, your phone has a filesystem and operating system of its own. An iPhone uses the iOS operating system, while many other smartphones use Google’s Android operating system. The Android O/S is open-source, so there are many variants of it for smartphones and other devices.

Android Data Recovery

Android is based on the Linux kernel, so Android mobile devices have Linux filesystems. There are a wide range of Linux filesystems due to the open-source nature of Linux. Our mobile phone data recovery technicians must be well-versed in all flavors of Linux OSes, from Btrfs to ZFS. It’s common for Android eMMC chips to be formatted with Ext4, or with F2FS, a filesystem designed with the unique characteristics of NAND flash memory chips in mind.

While in many cases the phone has died, there are many other cases in which our clients have accidentally factory reset their phones and lost their personal files. As long as the phone isn’t self-encrypting, data recovery in this situation is similar to recovering data from a hard drive after an accidental reformat or system restore. In many mobile phone data recovery cases, our clients are after text messages and contact lists. These are typically stored in a SQLite database. Recovering text messages and presenting them in usable format requires using SQL queries and Unix time conversion to parse them into a spreadsheet humans can easily read.

iPhone Data Recovery Service

While the technology behind the iPhone isn’t so much different from Android phones, the filesystem architecture is very different. Whereas Android mobile phones use open-source Linux filesystems, iPhones and iPads stick with Apple’s proprietary HFS+ architecture. Our data recovery technicians are very well-acquainted with Apple filesystems and are well-versed in recovering lost, deleted, or corrupted data from these devices.

Some models of Android phones are self-encrypting. But all modern iPhones (from the iPhone 4s model and up) are self-encrypting by default, similar to many SSD models. As is the case with all encrypted storage media, access to the data is verboten without the unique encryption credentials. The encryption key can be lost if the controller fails, or when an encrypted smartphone is factory reset. Factory resetting creates a new encryption key and overwrites the old one. But although there are situations where data recovery from iPhones just can’t be done, our mobile experts still have methods to salvage data from iPhones in plenty of other circumstances.

Why Choose Gillware for Your Mobile Phone Data Recovery Needs?

Many of our mobile phone cases come from clients in law enforcement. We hold ourselves to high standards of data security in all data recovery situations. Gillware is a secure, SOC 2 Type II audited and HIPAA compliant data recovery lab. If you work in law enforcement and need data recovered from a smartphone, please contact the mobile forensics experts in our Gillware Digital Forensics department.

We offer mobile phone data recovery services to more than just clients in law enforcement. We’ve recovered data from phones that have been dropped, run over, burned, and submerged in liquid by ordinary people as well. Our mobile phone experts are highly trained and highly skilled. Our in-house data recovery tools and techniques are cutting-edge. We d work to make our mobile phone data recovery services as financially risk-free as we can. We can even cover the cost of inbound shipping.

Still not convinced? Check out some of these case studies for phone data recovery...

Case Study: Alcatel One Touch Fierce 2 7040N locked out

Recovery Type: Mobile Phone Internal Memory: 4GB Manufacturer: Alcatel Model Name: One Touch Fierce 2 Operating System: Android Carrier: TracFone Wireless (GSM) Model Number: 7040N Manufacture Date: 09/2014 Main Symptom: Locked out Type […]


Case Study: TracFone Wireless LG L34C locked out

Recovery Type: Mobile Phone Internal Memory: 1.79GB Manufacturer: LG Model Name: Optimus Fuel Operating System: Android Carrier: TracFone Model Number: L34C Manufacture Date: 09/2014 Main Symptom: Locked out Type of Data: Photos, text messages, […]