Many electronic devices, such as PCs, smartphones and tablets, are equipped with a software feature called a factory reset. This erases all information on a device as part of the process of restoring its software to the original manufacturer's settings. As a result, this removes all of your personal files stored on the internal hard drive such as pictures, emails and SMS messages. In the event of such a data loss, you can still use data recovery software to save lost data before it becomes completely overwritten.
What a Factory Reset Does
A factory reset of devices, like PCs, Android phones and tablets, entails a complete reformatting of the unit s hard drive. This returns the device to its original state from when you first purchased it, without any personal apps installed, family photos stored, and emails or contacts saved. The internal hard drive of the device is essentially cleaned of all nonessential data that wasn t present when you first activated the device. Manufacturers create a snapshot of the existing operating system with default settings in place and any initial apps. Each time the device is reformatted, it reverts back to this snapshot state, erasing any data that didn t exist out of the box.
Where Your Files Go
When a factory reset is performed on a device, all of your old photos, emails, contacts, SMS messages and other personal data are wiped from the internal hard drive. However, this is not considered a secure wipe, which means the original hard drive records aren t overwritten with zeroes. The imprint of these files still exists on the physical hard drive disc, even if it isn t accessible from the device s interface. To recover files after a factory reset, you need to purchase data recovery software.
How to Recover Data After a Factory Reset
When a file is deleted from a hard drive, whether accidentally or intentionally, it is still accessible through the use of data recovery software. These tools scour the hard drive and locate any recoverable data, piecing them together gradually into a salvageable file. Prior to even running data recovery, the software can scan your hard drive and provide a preview of recoverable files. You can then use it to resurrect files of any type or size, from photos to contacts.
The only instances of when data recovery isn t possible is if you encrypted a phone or tablet, as restoring factory settings would create a whole new install index that would render any old data inaccessible. Without the original key used to decrypt the files on a device, the chances of recovery are nonexistent, even with the best recovery software. If your device wasn t encrypted and it hasn t been too long since a file was removed, there s an even greater chance that you ll be able to recover it from complete erasure. But in many cases, you can still expect to recover photos after a factory reset because of the reliability of data recovery software.