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How Files Become Corrupted, And How You Can Protect Your Data

data corruption

Corrupted file — damaged, unreadable, or the one refusing to open properly — is what nearly all of us had encountered in our user experience. And if before even a system reboot couldn’t always handle this type of problem, today we work with machines that are taught to find and correct errors on their own.

So how come these next-gen computers, substantive, smart and nimble, are able to operate a multitude of processes at a time, help humans to solve the most difficult mathematical problems, even recognize a cat in the picture — yet not being capable of preventing such trivial issue? Well, one thing at a time.


How Data Becomes Corrupted

Depending on the type of data, every file on your computer has a certain structure. For a file to function normally, data must be placed in a specific part of it. However, when wrong information is written to a file, or right information is misplaced, the data it stores becomes scrambled or mutilated — and that’s how you get a corrupted file.


Now, files typically become corrupted during saving — when something (like damage dealt to a media storage, unexpected shutdown, application error or system failure) interrupts the process of data being written to a disk. Let’s say an electricity outage occurs at the most inopportune moment, making the application experience problems under creating an archive. Your backup program then becomes unable to write out the data from created duplicate… and so on. Basically, that’s how you get a damaged file that either shows an error, or doesn’t open at all.


As a result, you’ll likely find some of your programs malfunctioning, Blue Screen of Death errors occur often, even your system may be having trouble with booting up.


Common File Corruption Causes

On Hard Drives. Because of its fragile mechanical structure, your hard disk (as well as similar kinds of storage media) may face physical issues like scratches on the surface of a platter caused by touching it with the read-and-write needle, or platters nocking one another, — even due to a subtle flaw your hard drive came with, known as “thin spot”, which simply wears out over time.

File corruption may also occur because of bad sectors, bad updates, viruses, and various malware activity, power surges, defective parts, overheating, excessive dust, etc.


On Flash Memory & SD-Cards. Mostly used to increase memory capacities, these tiny storage devices are very sensitive to processing interruptions mentioned previously. For instance, file corruption can occur if you extract your SD-card before it’s done saving data, or when the device had been shut down before processing was finished.

Besides that, physical damage dealt to a thumb drive or SD-card can also lead to file corruption — just as mechanical malfunctions within the device it’s attached to.


On Optical Media. Due to their structural features, optical media like CDs and DVDs degrade over time, resulting in irreversible loss of all stored data… just in case you were wondering why those are no longer in use (or where your honeymoon photoshoot went).


On Mobile Devices. Smartphones today have reached that level of performance when can get infected with viruses and malware as easily as our laptops and computers do. As such, whenever a mobile app crashes or gets physical damage,  a file corruption may take place, leading to data loss or defacement.


How to Protect Important Data

There is no way to prevent a hard disk from developing bad sectors, or application from failing. It happens. What you can actually avert is data loss — with that, the best you can do is prepare and establish a Disaster Recovery Plan. Here are 3 actions you can take right now to prevent data loss: 


  1. First and foremost, make sure you’re backing your system up regularly. And if that is a Cloud storage you use for backups, make sure you have the option to recover previous versions of stored data (like in Dropbox). Why? Because data can get lost from the Cloud as well. Once your file gets corrupted, it will soon be automatically synced to your cloud storage and overwrite information stored over there, meaning you don’t have that file anymore.
  2. Protecting your system from malware with a reputable antivirus software is next up on the prevention checklist. Regularly scan the contents of your computer, watch its versions to make sure the virus databases are updated. Oh, using common sense during browsing and downloading is also a must here.
  3. Finally, consider investing in an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Of course, that’s probably not what you were going to spend money on, but it will help protect your computer from power surges — and hence sudden shutdowns. UPS is a battery backup that provides you with a buffer against power outage (from a few minutes to hours), so you could properly close operational processes, ensuring all your vital information is safe and sound. All in all, a good UPS system can not only protect data on your computer from corruption, but also prevent the possible hardware issues.


These are the most effective measures to provide your data with levels of security, no matter what problem might arise. But in case the unhappy event nevertheless took place, SalvageData will be there to help you! With all the experience gained, we will do our best to recover all your lost data in the quickest and safest manner possible. Contact us for more information, or come for a visit to the nearest office.