Software recovers deleted photos

Box Score

With ImageRecall 3, files aren't necessarily gone for good

When you delete an image, accidentally or on purpose, from the flash memory chip in your digital camera, is it really gone forever? In a word, no.

Storing photos on a chip with no moving parts means they are secure from damage under most conditions. But flash memory is not perfect. What happens when you've taken 200 important photos and your memory card suddenly becomes corrupted? In the past, all your images might have been gone for good.

The GCN Lab just tested a program that could save those photos and potentially help government agencies'law enforcement, for example'that need to recover digital photos from damaged memory. ImageRecall 3 is a utility suite for flash memory cards. It can delve into the depths of supposedly ruined flash memory and reassemble images. As a bonus for security-minded government employees, it can completely erase images you no longer need, so they can never be recovered by any means.

To test ImageRecall, we purposely corrupted a flash memory card containing several photos. We did this by pulling out the card while the camera was still writing data to it, though corruption can also occur if your camera runs out of battery power while taking a photo. During the write process, the flash memory is extremely vulnerable, and that is when most cards become corrupted.

Easy installation

Software installation was easy. Just insert the CD into a Windows PC or Mac and perform a typical setup (the Mac version is currently ImageRecall 2, which supports fewer file formats and isn't as rich in features).

With the camera attached, you can perform a Turbo Scan, which quickly looks for images, or a Deep Scan, which takes a few minutes but will scan for files that have even been purposely erased. The software also works with standard memory card readers if you don't have the camera handy. It supports most flash formats, including CompactFlash, Memory Stick, Microdrive, SmartMedia and Secure Digital memory.

We were amazed at what we found. Using the Turbo Scan, we easily found and recovered the test photos we'd taken. Then we tried a Deep Scan. The memory chip we were using in the camera was one that had been in a GCN Lab public camera'one we circulate to the general staff for various purposes, including covering news events.

ImageRecall found more than 50 photos that had long since been deleted. Some of them were a bit, well, interesting. There were even several pictures of GCN Lab staff at a vendor function that we were sure we'd deleted.

None of the recovered images could be found through routine use of the camera and/or ordinary digital photo software. Yet all of them, once recovered, looked great in Adobe PhotoShop, displayed at their original resolutions.

Of the more than 50 photos on the chip, only one could not be recovered completely. When ImageRecall 3 performs a recovery, it takes all the data and places it in a folder on your hard drive so no further use of the media can corrupt the files.

That said, if what you really want to do is get rid of files so that no one else can use something like Image Recall to find them, the software can do that, too. When you perform a force erase, it deletes the image files and then overwrites all the data on the flash memory chip. This wipes out all traces of the images so they can never be recovered again.

Now granted, the government undoubtedly has sophisticated tools for recovering digital media, but how many of them cost $40 off the shelf? And government users are eligible for a 15 percent discount. Investigators from all walks of government would find ImageRecall useful in restoring lost images (or destroying sensitive ones). It supports many photo types, from the traditional JPEG and BMP to the more proprietary or rare formats like Portable Network Graphics or Olympus Raw Format. The software can even recover movie files, such as AVI and MOV files.

As an emergency recovery tool or just a secure way to ensure that deleted photos stay deleted, ImageRecall 3 is an impressive program suite for an increasingly digital world.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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