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I have a 16GB usb flash drive with 8GB worth of data that I can't afford to lose. When I inserted it into my pc, inside the folder that I was storing the data I saw unintelligible characters and nothing in there would open.

I ran windows scandisk and the files (unfortunately) disappeared. I can see that the drive's space still appears to be taken up with data, about 8gb.

What should I do to recover it? Is it possible?

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Advice for future recovery attempts: Never do any write operations on broken file systems without backup, especially if there might be physical damage, since this could lead to more data loss. As long as at least some sectors are still readable at least a partial recovery is probably possible. There are numerous topics on this here, e.g. superuser.com/questions/223718/… - I would try PhotoRec. –  Gurken Papst Jul 1 '12 at 15:01

2 Answers 2

First thing I'd do is dump an image of the flash drive.... linux based, since I never can find 'dd' on windows when I need it...

dd if=/dev/sdX of=whopping_big_file.img bs=1M

(Replace the sdX with the proper drive/device identifier) Let it finish! It'll take a while, considering it's a 16GB drive. This will create a (hopefully) 16GB file on your system, containing the data from every block.

Go put the original flash drive away in a safe place for now...

You can use several of linux's tools to attempt recovery, including file-system checkers, although you'll need some wizardry to eke out the partition(s) from the image file (search for loop device mounting).

One tool I've used that is tuned for finding documents, pictures and other relatively strongly identifiable files is 'magicrescue... it scans the blocks, looking for magic header bytes which signal the start of a particular type of file, png, jpg, gif, doc, pdf... etc. it saves it to your drive and you can review them to figure out what's good or not.

There are some other programs similar, of course there's a plethora of "we'll take your money" ones too... Patience is the key really. The data's most likely there... it's just going to take a while to scan 16GB of data.

MAKE A BACKUP COPY/IMAGE FIRST nothing is more important.

I was able to recover all 500+ pages of a client's book in this manner. Very grateful man. I then taught him about offsite backups... (nothing implied)

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I know this is an old question, but I found it by searching my problem. In the end I used PhotoRec with good results.

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