10 wackiest data disasters of 2008

Almost everyone has had their own data disaster – whether it’s running that USB key through the laundry or that heart-stopping drop of your laptop onto the sidewalk – but not many people have baked their data in an oven.

Kroll Ontrack Inc. has seen it all. The data recovery company attempts over 50,000 jobs a year, so it comes across its fair share of strange circumstances.

It’s started releasing an annual list of the strangest cases it comes across and 2008 is the fifth such list. Past incarnations have included data loss due to an ant invasion, the use of a dirty sock in place of a hard drive encasing, a cockroach infestation, and an airplane running over a laptop.

The list is intended to raise awareness of the need to perform data backups, says John Riddell, the Canada office manager for Kroll Ontrack based in Toronto.

“We want to get the point out to our customers that they’re not alone,” he says. “It’s a learning experience we take from year to year when we see the most extreme cases.”

So while some of these scenarios might seem over-the-top, losing your own data isn’t an unlikely scenario. If anything, these 10 cases prove the unlikely can happen…

10. Overboard
A round-the-world sailing trip ended poorly when the boat of the traveler capsized on the last day of her trip with her laptop on board. Ontrack Data says its recovery engineers were able to recover 100 per cent of the data, which documented her once-in-a-lifetime experience.

9. All Cooped Up

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, a newly wed couple thought both their engagement and wedding photos would never be recovered. Their fears grew worse when a local data recovery provider deemed the drive “corroded beyond repair.” Two and half years later, the couple dug up the water-logged drive from their basement to give Ontrack a try. The customers were glad they did; all of the engagement and wedding pictures were recovered.   

8. Gone Fishing
A vacationing lawyer thought she could fish with her father and keep up with some business at the same time. Furious that she had brought a laptop into the fishing boat, her father’s friend threw her laptop bag (containing the laptop and backup media) overboard. The fully-clothed lawyer jumped in after the laptop, but it proved to be too late. Her valuable business and tax information were eventually retrieved by Ontrack Data Recovery’s engineers, the company says.

7. That’s a Wrap
An independent film maker was putting the final touches on his latest Western using his MacBook Pro when it started making odd noises and crashed. Without a backup copy, the filmmaker worried his year of hard work would go wasted. Ontrack Data Recovery services recovered the film, which was then completed and sold. It is now available internationally on DVD.

6. Stolen Goods
A laptop was stolen from a family’s house along with a purse, car keys and the family car. The car was found the following day by the riverside, but with no sign of the laptop or handbag. Days later, a Good Samaritan arrived at the burglarized home with a dripping laptop bag (laptop inside). His children had found it washed up on the beach. How was the Good Samaritan able to find the owner? The thief had stuffed the handbag into the laptop bag before it was thrown in the river.

5. Dog Gone Wild

A rowdy dog knocked a portable USB drive off the family room coffee table, rendering it unreadable by the family computer. At stake were five years of family photos, which Ontrack says were all were all recovered via Ontrack Data Recovery.

4. Baby Teeth
Kroll Ontrack received an SD card from a camera with lots of teeth marks on it. The customer indicated a “wild animal” had gotten hold of it and chewed it. It turns out the wild animal he was referring to was his two-year-old son. 

3. Swept Away
A routine house cleaning went awry when a one GB flash drive was sucked away with food crumbs by a vacuum cleaner. The vacuum was so powerful that the traces from the drive were pulled from the circuit board and the connector was torn loose.

2. It’s a Jungle Out There
A wildlife research institute project came to a sudden halt when one of the flash tracking chips from a Florida panther’s collar was physically damaged in the wild. The critical panther preservation data was successfully recovered.

1. Roast Laptop

A gentleman put his laptop into the kitchen oven prior to leaving for vacation in order to protect it from burglars if the house happened to be broken into while he was away away. His wife came home and got to the oven before he did to cook a roast chicken. The oven cooked not only the chicken, but the drive too.

“Always make sure you have a backup of your data,” Riddell says. “Try saving your files to both your computer’s hard drive and an external hard drive.”

That way, you’ll be less likely to end up on next year’s list of shame for data disasters.

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