Why Itâ€™s So Hard to Recover Deleted Data on Android and What to Do About It.
When it comes to Android data recovery, a quick Google search brings up a slew of scams, misinformation, and malware that stand for recovery tools. Many people accidentally delete important files, and unfortunately, there are many people out there who will try to capitalize on their misery.
But that’s not all the bad news. In this article, we will explain what data recovery is possible on Android and how you can protect yourself from accidental data deletion in the future.
Can Data Be Recovered on Android?
Unfortunately, very little, if any, data can be restored to the internal storage of Android phones unless backed up. To find out why, let’s start by discussing how data is stored on an Android device and what happens when it is deleted.
How does Android save and delete files?
On most phones (and storage devices), files are not actually erased when deleted. Instead, the location of recently deleted files is marked as rewritable. The original data is then replaced when the new file is saved, overwriting it. Thus, while the data is not overwritten, it can be technically recovered – or it would be if the drive was not encrypted.
From Android 5.0 to Android 9, full disk encryption is used. This form of encryption uses a single 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) key that is stored securely on the device (protected by a user password). If you reset to factory settings, all files stored using full disk encryption are erased and cannot be recovered.
Instead, Android 7.0 and later uses file encryption. This form of encryption uses different keys for different files, meaning they can be unlocked independently of each other. However, this also means that when a file is deleted, its encryption key is deleted along with it, effectively erasing it completely.
If you have not removed file encryption from your device, any deleted data cannot be recovered, no matter what online services claim.
And even worse, data recovery from Android NAND flash memory is significantly more difficult than from computer hard drives.
The storage controller writes all data to the NAND flash. When a file is deleted, the controller marks the space as “empty” but does not erase it. As data is constantly being written and deleted, the controller has to keep track of an increasingly detailed vault map.
However, starting with Android 4.3, phones include the TRIM protocol. TRIM helps by telling the controller to stop monitoring remote data by marking it for garbage collection (when files are completely erased). In fact, this means that the longer you leave the deleted data, the less chance you have to recover it.
What data can be recovered on Android?
The types of data that you can recover from Android phones include:
recently deleted photos that are stored in the trash bin; any deleted data that was backed up using services such as Samsung Cloud and Google Drive Data that was stored on an SD card (although this is not guaranteed). Data associated with your Google account, such as a contact list. Can I recover my data after a factory reset?
It is not possible to recover data from an Android phone that has been factory reset unless it has been backed up elsewhere. Data stored on an SD card can be recovered even if it is deleted – we will cover that below.
Does rooting my phone help me recover my data?
Some data recovery apps require rooting your Android device for data recovery. For older versions of Android like OS 5 or 6, rooting was relatively straightforward and allowed data recovery apps to bypass disk encryption and potentially access recently deleted files.
In later versions, including Android 10 and 11, rooting is not possible without downloading a bootloader that once again cleans up your storage. This actually makes it useless for data recovery.
What about data recovery specialists?
Data recovery professionals use sophisticated, often destructive techniques to directly access NAND storage and recover data. For pre-encrypted Android OS, these methods were successful, but could also destroy the phone.
For encrypted devices, these methods can be used to recover data, but since it is impossible to decrypt data outside the phone where the key is stored, this is almost always pointless.
Are All Data Recovery Apps Scams?
No, although there are many scam apps available on the Google Play store, many of them are legal. For example, they can work great with SD cards, old versions of Android and other media.
However, many ARE scams. And keep in mind that no app can recover data after a factory reset (except for very early Android versions) or from phones that use file encryption.
Sometimes you will be able to use these apps to recover newly deleted files from Android, which uses full disk encryption, but the files are encrypted and inaccessible without a key.
Often times, data recovery applications restore cached thumbnails and claim to be the original photo files (which can still be better than nothing). This is the reason that many applications offer “image enhancement” tools.
How to Recover Data from your Android
You can restore certain data to your Android device if you’ve backed it up in the past, or if it’s stored on an SD card instead of your phone’s internal storage. You can also recover SMS messages.
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Some photo apps, including the Gallery app, have a trash bin that temporarily stores recently deleted photos.
To access it, open Gallery and select the three horizontal lines in the lower right corner. Then select Trash.
You should see all recently deleted photos, including the amount of time left before your device erases them permanently.
Recover deleted data from SD card
SD card data is much easier to recover than Android flash data. Even if the files on your SD card have been deleted or you formatted the drive by accident, you can still recover them with reliable data recovery tools.
If you accidentally deleted photos from your SD card, we recommend using PhotoRec, a free photo recovery application that you can install on your computer. By using an SD card reader to access the drive, you can hopefully recover your photos.
Restoring from a local backup
Most Android phones have a local backup feature. If you have enabled periodic backups, you will be able to restore any data that you deleted and that was captured by a previous backup.
To access the backup data:
Go to Settings> Accounts & Backup.
Tap Recover Data.
Choose the most recent backup for your phone.
Make sure all the data you want to recover is selected and click â€œRecoverâ€.
Recover from Google Account
If you have a Google account and have sync enabled on your Android device, some of your data can be recovered – even after a factory reset. What’s more, Android 8 and up supports automatic backups with Google One, allowing you to recover any accidentally deleted files.
Recoverable data can include your contacts, app data, calendar, Chrome browser data, and documents or files stored in Google Drive or Gmail.
If you’ve reset your phone or are using a new phone, during setup, as soon as you add your Google account to your device, you can restore all synced data.
How to Ensure Your Data Is Backed Up
There are many backup services available for Android devices, and you can even perform manual backups if you want. The easiest option is to enable backups in your Android settings or through your Google account.
Enable local backup
The process for enabling local backup may differ depending on the model and manufacturer of your phone. For Samsung, to enable local backup:
Open settings. Click Accounts & Backup.
Select Back up my data.
Enable each type of data that you want to automatically back up, or select “Back up now”.
This data will now be periodically backed up to Samsung Cloud when your device is idle and connected to Wi-Fi.
Enable Google One Back Up
To enable automatic backups with Google One:
Open Settings> Google.
In the “Backup details” section, make sure all categories are included.
To turn them on, tap and turn on Backup & sync.
When your device is idle for two hours and is connected to Wi-Fi, it will start syncing your data.
Prevention Is Better Than the Cure
Accidentally deleting files sucks, especially if it’s valuable photos or important documents. The only way to truly ensure that your files can be recovered in the event of an accidental deletion is to back up your data securely frequently.
Luckily, there are many free or paid cloud services out there that can do this for you with minimal effort!
Why Itâ€™s So Hard to Recover Deleted Data on Android and What to Do About It
Why Itâ€™s So Hard to Recover Deleted Data on Android and What to Do About It