How to recover deleted or corrupted digital currency

The popularity of Bitcoin and other digital / cryptographic currency cannot be denied. Different users like using it for different reasons, but many agree that the question of keeping their stash safe is something that occasionally keeps them up at night.

With the currency’s rising popularity, different services started popping up to help solve that dilemma. Still, some chose to keep their digital money on their own devices. But what happens if these devices break down, get corrupted, or get accidentally erased?

Chris Bross, Senior Enterprise Recovery Engineer at well-known data recovery firm DriveSavers, has recently been involved in a few cases where customers needed their digital currency recovered.

“In the past, we have typically been asked to recover user-created data files like photos, QuickBooks, videos, etc. Now we are being asked to recovery digital currency,” he shared with Help Net Security. “We did not particularly start offering recovery services to Bitcoin users, customers just came to us begging for help.”

Usually, the value of the data on any device is gauged by the user to whom it belongs. The recovery process can be relatively expensive, but when Bitcoins are at stake, the value of the recovery makes it even more worthwhile.

So far, the company has had 8 requests for digital currency recovery, 7 for Bitcoin and 1 for Litecoin.

“In general, hardware failures of the storage devices are more common, but in many of these cases the users were completely at fault because they deleted the data, and in two cases, even overwrote it,” he explained.

These two cases ended with the experts recovering the wallet.dat files, but the encrypted data was unfortunately corrupted beyond repair.

“Having said that, no situation is entirely hopeless and we always want to attempt the data recovery, as early as possible after the data loss event has occurred, to prevent the user from making a poor choice that leads to additional loss,” he notes.

While the company usually deals more with companies needing to recover data, all of their requests for Bitcoin recovery so far have been from individuals.

“In almost all cases, the user was keeping only a single copy of their wallet.dat file on a single storage device,” says Bross. “Three of the eight total cases were stored on a SSD (sold state drive), while the others were on HDDs. In all cases, the users did not trust the available cloud backup or other options to replicate their critical Bitcoin data.”

In one particular case where the customer stored his digital wallet on his Microsoft Surface Pro tablet, performed a number of steps that led to data loss AND disabled the computer’s ability to boot up, they had to develop a new method to be able to create an image of the SSD without physically removing it from the tablet.

“Since it was an SSD, there were concerns about BGC (background garbage collection) processes that would erase and sanitize the missing data as a normal function of system maintenance. We needed to intercept and halt those processes to mitigate any additional loss of data,” he shared.

“Do you also offer the service of tracing and recovering stolen Bitcoin?” I asked, and received a negative answer. “Although, we do offer forensic data recovery services for any case that may end up in litigation or prosecution,” Bross noted.

Finally, I asked him to share some tips on how to keep one’s digital currency safe.

“Print it on paper. Ironically, in these modern times of digital everything, paper and ink are more reliable and last longer than magnetic or solid state storage,” he offered.

“In addition, keep multiple copies of the files on other secured and encrypted media that you personally control yourself. If you choose to store this data in the cloud, be well aware of potential cloud security vulnerabilities and risks.”

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