Guide to Symbian Data Recovery & Backup: How to Recover Lost Files & Photos

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The Basics

Loss of data is inconvenient and expensive, and can happen to anybody. It’s important to have some sort of data management in place. While it may take a little work, none of the suggestions in this article are complicated and can save you a lot of heart ache later on.


Backing up data is a precautionary measure, which surprisingly few people get around to actually doing. Don’t assume there will be another time to make copies of information. With the numerous synchronization applications that are now available, it is very simple to make regular backups part of your schedule.

Weeding Out Unnecessary Data

As important as data is, it has a tendency to pile up. Contacts that have changed, calendar notifications of one-time events and unnecessary messages take up memory space. So do applications that are installed but never used, but that is another topic altogether. It is wise to go through all the data stored on the phone and to remove data that is no longer required. In the terminology of data management experts, the phenomenon of having unnecessary data is known as data redundancy – basically it’s logical to remove stuff that is no longer accurate, required or duplicated.

Labeling Data

Using various phone management applications on a PC is a great way to stay on top of data. Most of these applications take care of tasks such as synchronization and backups, in addition to other features. Some of these phone managers incorporate powerful image, video, audio and message organizational tools. These tools allow the user to glance through the content from their phone easily. An extra useful feature is the ability to label or tag the data.

For example, there could be about five hundred photographs in a folder containing the mobile content. Most names are along the lines of ‘Image’ and are difficult to distinguish from one another. With most of these phone managers, it is possible to alter the properties of an image file, attaching metadata like tags to them. The tags then act like markers, simplifying search and retrieval, cutting down significantly on speed issues.


MoStacks is an interesting freeware that has been created by a stand-alone programmer. It is a data management system that allows a user to create a database of sorts on their Symbian mobile phones. According to the developer, MoStacks was inspired, although not copied, from the Apple’s HyperCard Software. MoStacks is broken up into two parts: one residing on the mobile phone, and the other on the PC. It stores data in the form of cards, enabling cross-referencing and easy retrieval of data. It is a powerful software that has a simple and intuitive interface.

How Memory Works

The hard drive of any computer, whether mobile or otherwise, is divided up into cells or locations. Each location can hold a piece of data, and is limited to a certain size. The data itself is stored in its most primitive form, which is binary, or 0s and 1s. When a chunk of data is written to the memory, a series of consequent memory locations is reserved and filled with the values. After which, an entry is created in the index table for referencing and retrieval of the data. When data is deleted, the data is not actually removed, nor are the memory locations reset; the entry in the index table is deleted, and the flags of those locations show they are free. Therefore the data is still there; it is merely in danger of being overwritten.

Data Recovery Software

The way data recovery software applications work is by attempting to scan the memory by comparing the data provided in the search string to the data stored in the locations. In large memories, it is quite possible to retrieve the whole chunk of data. There are of course a few caveats: this is not a completely certain process, as there are chances the memory locations may have been reused. Additionally, because of the obvious security hole that data recovery causes, there are tools available that will reset all the unused memory locations, permanently erasing any traces of data. That being said, it is still worth an attempt, if there has been no significant addition to the memory.

1. File Scavenger

Designed mainly for PCs, File Scavenger can also retrieve accidentally deleted data from removable storage media including mobile memory cards. The software has the great facility to recover data from drives that have been reformatted; a task which requires a higher level of algorithmic programming. File Scavenger also manages to handle bad sectors on a volume, an exceedingly complicated process.

2. Stellar Photo Recovery

Stellar Photo Recovery is another utility designed for PCs, mainly Windows and Macintoshes. However, this handy tool has been especially created to recover lost image data, like photographs and other images. The software can deal with multiple causes of data loss, including instances of incorrect removal of memory cards, corruption of memory sectors and even damage to the media. In some cases, videos and audio files can also be retrieved without a great deal of trouble. The application can be downloaded first as a trial version, which lasts up to a month. This is really more than sufficient time to extract data from the memory card from one case of accidental loss.

3. SIM Card Data Recovery Software

SIM Card Data Recovery Software is another specialized utility, this time aimed at reading lost data from SIM cards. The tool is very basic in nature, as it only reads the contents of the SIM card memory, leaving it up to the user to decide what to retrieve. A useful feature it does incorporate is the read-only mode; that means, the data, once recovered, will still remain on the SIM card, without any changes being made to it.

4. BadCopy Pro

One of the better features of BadCopy Pro is that it is easy to set up and use. Within minutes of installation, and minimal manual support, it is possible to start the data retrieval process. Corrupted files are handled easily, and files can be retrieved from all manner of removable media, like memory cards.

The advantage of having a PC data recovery application, which also handles removable storage media, is the ability to use the same utility for both systems. This is a rather significant plus point, as these software applications are not free of charge.

5. Recover Data for NTFS 1.0

Recover Data is a particularly useful software to opt for, as it can retrieve data from a formatted drive. This is a really nifty feature because formatted drives are usually erased altogether. The data is saved into a user-specified folder, and can be revised at later stages, as per user convenience.

An Exceptional Case

During research one day, Davide Del Vecchio, came across what he calls an interesting ‘feature’ on his phone. He installed PC Suite and created a backup of his mobile content on his PC. Using CYGWin, a Linux environment for Windows, he was able to use a series of Linux commands to find SMSes in some of the backup .dat files. When he found a part of the file, he then used a string search function to locate the file from where the part was located, thereby retrieving not only the message, but the associated telephone numbers, and the timestamps.

The process is rather complicated, but it did retrieve messages that were not visible anywhere on the mobile phone. For more information on this process, please see here.

Even if data is recovered, whether part or in whole, it is always advisable to review the contents carefully to establish data integrity. Another caveat is that most of the recovery software applications that are available usually focus on memory card data retrieval, or in some rare cases, SIM card memory as well. In the event that the data was stored on the phone memory, it is probably impossible to retrieve altogether. Backing up data is vital, as these data recovery applications do not work every single time without fail.

Data Security

The issue of data security has spawned an entire industry, and with good reason: the theft of someone’s personal data can, at best, cause minor inconveniences, and, in the worst case scenario, turn someone’s life upside down. There are precautionary measures one can take to ensure that their personal data is protected, and out of the reach of malicious persons.

Physical Security

Once upon a time, mobile phones were luxury items, and people guarded them closely. With the unprecedented spread of the mobile phone now, it is more probable that people take the small instrument for granted. The easiest way to extract a person’s data from their phone is to actually have it in the first place. So precaution number one would be to be careful with the phone.

That being said, accidents will happen; thefts or lapses can occur. In these cases, there are several device-locking mechanisms that one can put into place. First of all, in the case of theft, the first action usually performed is to turn off the handset for a while. After switching it back on, the first fail safe is to have a PIN code for the SIM card. If it is entered incorrectly three times, the SIM is locked. Most Symbian devices also provide a lock code, which can be set to activate after a certain period of inactivity, when the phone is turned on, and also when the SIM card is changed.

Malware & Trojans

The main goal of viruses and Trojans is to record personal data and to send it to another location, where it can be used maliciously or for illegitimate purposes. While it is difficult to penetrate the defences of a Symbian mobile phone, it is entirely impossible. There are a number of anti-virus programs that are available, and additional measures that can be taken.

SafeBoot Data Security (4 out of 5)

SafeBoot has designed a data security application especially for Symbian phones. The application uses a combination of powerful encryption algorithms and access control policies to safeguard data that is present on the mobile phone. SafeBoot Data Security is very attractive to enterprises, whose employees use their mobile phones for work purposes. This is usually a security issue for network administrators, and SafeBoot addresses those very same problems effectively. It can be used on virtually any folder or file, allowing great flexibility.

ZeroFill for Memory Locations

As discussed earlier in data recovery, ‘deleted’ data doesn’t necessarily disappear altogether from the memory. It can be retrieved. While this is rather a relief for trigger-happy deleters, it can spell trouble for sensitive information. There is only one way to ensure a permanent delete, and that is by carrying out a zerofill.

As explained earlier, the memory locations are flagged to show whether they are available for use or not. The data remains constant until those particular locations are written to, thereby preserving the old data. Zerofill changes all the values of the memory locations to zero, erasing the data permanently, without waiting for it to be overwritten. The flags remain unchanged, and locations that are in use are untouched. This is a very effective way of protecting data.

There are a number of programs for all the various precautionary measures, but the simplest and the most effective one is to keep the mobile phone always close at hand.