The most common data recovery scenarios involve an operating system failure, malfunction of a storage device, logical failure of storage devices, accidental damage or deletion, etc. (typically, on a single-drive, single-partition, single-OS system), in which case the ultimate goal is simply to copy all important files from the damaged media to another new drive. This can be accomplished using a Live CD, or DVD by booting directly from a ROM or a USB drive instead of the corrupted drive in question. Many Live CDs or DVDs provide a means to mount the system drive and backup drives or removable media, and to move the files from the system drive to the backup media with a file manager or optical disc authoring software. Such cases can often be mitigated by disk partitioning and consistently storing valuable data files (or copies of them) on a different partition from the replaceable OS system files.
Another scenario involves a drive-level failure, such as a compromised file system or drive partition, or a hard disk drive failure. In any of these cases, the data is not easily read from the media devices. Depending on the situation, solutions involve repairing the logical file system, partition table, or master boot record, or updating the firmware or drive recovery techniques ranging from software-based recovery of corrupted data, to hardware- and software-based recovery of damaged service areas (also known as the hard disk drive's "firmware"), to hardware replacement on a physically damaged drive which allows for the extraction of data to a new drive. If a drive recovery is necessary, the drive itself has typically failed permanently, and the focus is rather on a one-time recovery, salvaging whatever data can be read.
In some cases, data on a hard disk drive can be unreadable due to damage to the partition table or file system, or to (intermittent) media errors. In the majority of these cases, at least a portion of the original data can be recovered by repairing the damaged partition table or file system using specialized data recovery software such as Testdisk; software like ddrescue can image media despite intermittent errors, and image raw data when there is partition table or file system damage. This type of data recovery can be performed by people without expertise in drive hardware as it requires no special physical equipment or access to platters.
After data has been physically overwritten on a hard disk drive, it is generally assumed that the previous data are no longer possible to recover. In 1996, Peter Gutmann, a computer scientist, presented a paper that suggested overwritten data could be recovered through the use of magnetic force microscopy. In 2001, he presented another paper on a similar topic. To guard against this type of data recovery, Gutmann and Colin Plumb designed a method of irreversibly scrubbing data, known as the Gutmann method and used by several disk-scrubbing software packages.
Solid-state drives (SSD) overwrite data differently from hard disk drives (HDD) which makes at least some of their data easier to recover. Most SSDs use flash memory to store data in pages and blocks, referenced by logical block addresses (LBA) which are managed by the flash translation layer (FTL). When the FTL modifies a sector it writes the new data to another location and updates the map so the new data appear at the target LBA. This leaves the pre-modification data in place, with possibly many generations, and recoverable by data recovery software.
Sometimes, data present in the physical drives (Internal/External Hard disk, Pen Drive, etc.) gets lost, deleted and formatted due to circumstances like virus attack, accidental deletion or accidental use of SHIFT+DELETE. In these cases, data recovery software is used to recover/restore the data files.
Recovery experts do not always need to have physical access to the damaged hardware. When the lost data can be recovered by software techniques, they can often perform the recovery using remote access software over the Internet, LAN or other connection to the physical location of the damaged media. The process is essentially no different from what the end user could perform by themselves.