Kroll Ontrack: The company that can recover data from anything

It’s fair to say the staff at Kroll Ontrack like a challenge. Whether it’s the vital but grim task of recovering data from the black-box recorders on the Space Shuttle Columbia, or the recent retrieval of data from a Polish customer’s 20-year-old Amiga 600, the clean rooms at Kroll Ontrack’s premises see a huge variety of hardware – much of it in an appalling state.

Kroll Ontrack: The company that can recover data from anything

However, it’s not the fire-damaged or fractured hard disks that seem to give Phil Bridge, the managing director of Kroll Ontrack UK, cause for concern. In fact, you rather suspect Bridge and his engineers enjoy the task of piecing together smashed hard disk platters. “We always say ‘don’t assume it’s irrecoverable’,” Bridge told us.

Indeed, it’s often not the physical recovery of the data that poses the biggest problem, but the format in which it’s stored: the increasing use of encryption makes the recovery of data that bit harder for Bridge’s team. But, as we discovered from our time with Bridge, Kroll Ontrack is a company that’s used to working out ways of achieving the improbable.

Changing shape of storage


Kroll is renowned among the IT press for its regular media challenges. The company sends journalists new hard disks, invites them to fill the disks with their data, and then encourages said hacks to do their worst: drop the disks out of a third-floor window, dunk them in Coca-Cola or reverse over them in a Land Rover. The disks are returned to Kroll in sealed bags and, weeks later, the journalists are invited to its European headquarters in Epsom, Surrey and sit gobsmacked as staff pull up the photos and documents that were once stored on their seemingly obliterated drives.

If Kroll was to run the challenge again, it’s as likely to send out an SSD or a phone as it is a hard disk, such is the evolving nature of the company’s recovery business. Computer hard disk recovery is still a big part of Kroll’s workload, but Bridge admits that more widespread use of cheap backup drives, and cloud backup in particular, is trimming demand for traditional types of data recovery.

“Ultimately, the cloud is still a storage device, it’s just somewhere else.”

Nevertheless, the shift to the cloud has opened new opportunities. “We’re seeing much more data stored in the cloud, both for consumer and big-business data,” said Bridge. “Ultimately, the cloud is still a storage device, it’s just somewhere else.”

Bridge says Kroll has good relationships with many of the cloud storage providers, which enables the company to recover data on their clients’ behalf, either by remotely accessing the provider’s servers or by physically getting their hands on the storage media. “It might be a question of the cloud provider ripping out a load of hard drives for us to work on locally,” said Bridge, although in virtualised environments where multiple customers’ data is stored on the same drives, that might not always be possible.

Moreover, Kroll works on behalf of the cloud providers themselves – even if some aren’t always willing to accept the help. “We had a cloud company call us recently who had a serious data loss at their back-end,” said Bridge. “They’d lost something like 3,000 customers’ worth of data. We were able to recover the data for them, but it was going to be a massive job. The company actually decided to lean on its Ts&Cs and go back to its customers and say: ‘your cloud storage is not a backup, it’s just storage. If you haven’t backed up your backup, that’s your lookout’. They basically refused to recover their customers’ data for them, and I suspect they’re out of business now.”

Disclaimer: Some pages on this site may include an affiliate link. This does not effect our editorial in any way.

Todays Highlights
How to See Google Search History
how to download photos from google photos