15 causes of Hard Disk Corruption

Everybody hates to lose data. Many of the issues proven to cause hard disk corruption can be avoided, if you know what they are. I have writen articles on almost every aspect of this list. Most are avoidable, some are not and we are just taking chances, such as Solar flare activity. We are in a hightened Solar storm now for the next 1.8 years. About the only thing we can do is to reboot our computers daily. So here they are, in no particular order:

1)Bugs in O.S. (Vista is the worst, but can be fixed)
2)Solar Flares (corrupts data in RAM, this is why IBM always used parity RAM in banks)
3)Static Electricity (worst culprit is chair mats that are NOT antistatic)
4)power Surge and Sag (UPS works wonders here, but turn off during lightening storms if possible)
5)failing hardware (lots of bad capacitors in the world, and you can physically see them)
6)leftovers from previous security applications (they hate each other and go to war)
7)Windows just decomposes with age anyways (Windows is a love/hate relationship)
8)Victim of the billionth bit (all hard disk have an acceptable error rate we are willing to put up with)
9)decomposing magnetic media in the hard disk (progressively creates bad sectors that won’t read)
10)add/remove programs (excessive use accelerates Windows corruption)
11)registry cleaners (just say no, unless absolutely necessary)
12)infections (avast! antivirus and Malwarebytes are the best protection money can buy)
13)dirty power (overloaded neutrals & bad grounds slowly eat away at data integrity)
14)heat (Seagate warranties require air flow, I prefer my hard disks at room temperature)
15)insufficient RAM (your hard disk must compensate and seeks constantly – thrashing)

Contact me if you wish to see the article on any specific issue. J.R. Guthrie

9 comments for “15 causes of Hard Disk Corruption

  1. Jynx, LT
    November 26, 2012 at 6:41 AM

    I got about 50PC in local network. It’s pretty strange that I got two error events in centralized log on two different storage technologies (SDD and HDD) – one today and one yesterday – the both events are +/2 hour within spikes in online magnetometers… Don’t know even what to think because I am gathering logs for almost two years…
    Nov 25 08:02:54 UTC The driver detected a controller error on \Device\Harddisk0\D. (SDD)
    Nov 26 05:08:09 UTC The driver detected a controller error on \Device\Harddisk0\D. (HDD)

  2. Renee
    October 1, 2012 at 1:03 AM

    Hi J.R., I am writing regarding Solar Flare activity and hard drive corruption. Currently I am serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua. Within the last month (September 2012), we (and Costa Rica) have experienced earthquakes, tremors and a volcanic eruption. It has been said that all this recent tectonic plate activity is a result of solar flares. Coincidentally, a disproportionate number of fellow volunteers have had their laptops crash for what appears to be hard drive corruption. Now after a bit of research on your site and others, I have learned that solar storms cause hard drives to corrupt. Are you aware of any large scale complaints of hard disks crashing as of late due to these recent solar flares? Or could you point me in the direction of further reading that could explain the relationship or further correlate it at least? I’d appreciate anything you can provide.

  3. J.R. Guthrie
    February 11, 2012 at 10:57 PM

    Joe, based upon this very current data and expert analysis, I can clearly see this possibility. You stated updates had occured. Doing an update during a solar flare, can interfere with communications, which can corrupt the downloaded update, which when applied, corrupts the operating system! Now that’s a real risk of Solar Flare and corruption that noone can ignore. You answered it yourself!

  4. Dave Graham
    February 9, 2012 at 10:46 PM

    JR,Joe –

    IBM is correct, but in practice it doesn’t matter. Unless the particle is VERY high energy, it’s not going to make through the metal case of the computer.

    I suppose it could sneak through a perforated or slotted vent, and make it in, but we are talking about individual quanta going about their business, and the ODDS of a hit are so rare that you would rack it up to another kind of transient error, unless the RAM was damaged and would not pass the next check on boot.

    If the flux density was high enough to be causing general errors – read you are in the path of a strong stream of particles- you will be dead before you realize the RAM has failed, and you won’t care.

    I know the IBM statement you are talking about. The main practical concern was hardening satellites so they could continue spying while the solar storm was in progress.

    The National Security Folks predict that the next war (if it comes) will begin with an all-out computer attack just as the main stream of a CME gets here. We might not realize an attack was in progress for a while… The other side of that coin is that the bad guys will have to wait for an opportunity to start the attack. They will likely have somewhere between 10 and 20 hours to load their guns. The gammas arrive in about eight minutes, the neutrinos and electrons take 10-30 minutes, the fastest betas (and
    heavier) start getting here in about 8 hours, depending on how strong the CME was that sent them on their way.

    BTW – vett check time. Remember Fukushima daiichi? While the anti-nukes still try to exploit the accident, the only humans who received dangerous levels of exposure are the firemen who waded into the “hot” water under reactor #3. They got sick, but have recovered. They are being monitored for cancer and cataracts. One cataract case, no cancers yet. They are lucky. I had thought them to be dead men walking when they got out of there. As for the media hype, I rest my case.


  5. Dave Graham
    February 9, 2012 at 10:38 PM

    JR et All…

    The risk is real. Our defenses are limited.

    Don’t sweat the telegraphs, but it IS the same thing that took out most of the eastern Canada power grid in 1989. See the Aussie govt. (one of the more reliable sources) at http://www.ips.gov.au/Educational/1/3/12 Google for more.

    The politics are our most vulnerable problem. It takes a LOT of guts to be the power administrator who needs to say “Disconnect every power utility from all others, and let them run on their own (or fail).” The main problem is our grid is almost completely inter-connected, resulting in single-conductor spans running thousands of miles long. That’s a juicy target for a solar flare or a CME. If our lines are much shorter (100 miles, max) – read disconnected from each other- we will have far less damage.

    If we take a major CME hit and the grid is linked, we WILL lose a LOT of HV transformers and switchgear. The manufacturing lead time to replace the transformers needed is 4-5 years to put us back to square-today.

    Most of the DOD satellites are fairly well hardened (atomic war expected), and can be shut down and faced for least damage. Much of the commercial telcom birds are not so strong, and again the politics of turning off the phones and MSNBC feeds from Democratic National Headquarters will be a tough call for some administrator.

    We will have a few hours warning from SOHO on the first wave of high-energy particles with enough mass to blast comms into oblivion, and 10-20 hours warning to get the power grid into best-defense (lots of people without
    power) posture.

    If we DO have the guts to make the hard decisions, we can weather a bad CME with moderate damage. Some places will be out of power for 1-30 days in the best case.

    -Look up — It is not a question of IF, it is WHEN. Our Star can be a fickle friend.

    Dave Graham

  6. Joe M
    February 8, 2012 at 10:01 PM

    J.R., towards the end of your response to the post I made on your Blog, you had a quote, “Scientists believe it could damage everything from emergency services’ systems, hospital equipment, banking systems and air traffic control devices, through to “everyday” items such as home computers, iPods and Sat Navs.” I found the quote made by Andrew Hough, writer for The Telegraph, a UK paper. He attributes his information to NASA but does not say who or where at NASA the information came from. For all I know he made it up. I checked the NASA website and could not find any such quote made by any NASA Solar Scientist, but did find the following regarding the January 22 storm:

    http :// www . nasa. gov/multimedia/podcasting/TWAN_01_27_12.html
    “Antti Pulkkinen, NASA Solar Scientist: “We’re expecting to reach the solar maximum in terms of activity, sometime around next year. So we’re expecting to have more of these kinds of solar eruptions in the coming two or three years.”

    Closely monitored by NASA scientists, the storm caused no major disruptions to operating technological systems in space or on the ground, such as satellite communications or high voltage power transmission.”

    The higher an object is from the surface of the earth, the greater chance it has to be affected by a solar flare or by “solar wind”. Like the article below explains, the radiation does not get much below 100 kilometers above the surface of the earth. One hundred kilometers equates to about 62 miles! That’s pretty far up. Steve at Seagate told me the same thing today but did not use the 100 km height.

    After reading up on the subject of solar flares today, and until I see more convincing evidence, I’m not going to believe solar flares will affect computer memory (RAM) or hard disks. At this point in time, it just doesn’t make sense to me, unless the information contained on the computer is somehow put there by a satellite. I value your knowledge of computers but am not buying solar flares as an explanation as a possible reason for what went wrong with my HDD this past Saturday. I attribute to something I cannot explain at this point but will keep a close eye on the drive. If it happens to be bad sectors, as you said it could have been, it will occur again in the future. Personally I do not believe it was bad sectors, as Apple’s Disk Utility is normally pretty good at pointing those out. I didn’t even get that far when I ran Disk Verify.

    The disk is a Seagate and is less than 8 months old. It’s under warranty with Seagate until April 4, 2014, according to Steve at seagate tech support. He would have replaced it today but I opted to hang on and try it for a while before giving it up. If I have another issue with the drive I will RMA it ASAP and replace with a new drive.

    I found the article below from The Journal. It was pretty comprehensive and good information.


    Explainer: Can a solar storm cause any damage?

    http:// www. thejournal.ie/explainer-can-a-solar-storm-cause-any-damage-336803-Jan2012/

    • J.R. Guthrie
      February 9, 2012 at 10:43 AM

      I remember speaking with Dave Graham (one of my subcontractors who is an Electrical Engineer. Dave says, a large flare is emminent (similar to 1859 that burned the Telegraph system down) “If the USA is in the way, the last guy will be without power for 5 years. That time is calculated by how many transformers are in inventory, plus how fast they can make them.” http :// science.nasa.gov / science-news/science-at-nasa/ 2008/06may_carringtonflare/

      Dave Graham, I know we always ask you the hard ones like Fukushima, but what is the real risk here?

      I have read this issue before, Gamma particles, Neutron particles, and highly charged Proton particles can, and do modify contents of RAM. I will find that IBM article, but it was well over 20 years ago when I read it. I found this article below while looking for the IBM article. Http :// www. usenix . org/event/fast10/tech/full_papers/zhang.pdf

      Errors in the memory chip are one source of memory corruptions.
      Memory errors can be classified as soft errors which randomly flip bits in RAM without leaving any permanent damage, and hard errors which corrupt bits in a repeatable manner due to physical damage.
      Researchers have discovered radiation mechanisms that cause errors in semiconductor devices at terrestrial
      altitudes. Nearly three decades ago, May and Woods found that if an alpha particle penetrates the die surface, it can cause a random, single-bit error [35]. Zeigler and Lanford found that cosmic rays can also disrupt electronic circuits [62]. More recent studies and measurements confirm the effect of atmospheric neutrons causing single event upsets (SEU) in memories [40, 41].

  7. J.R. Guthrie
    February 7, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    Hey Joe, I see three distinct possibilities:

    1) Bad sectors – which are recovered during initialization, but will go bad again.

    2) Static electricity, such as from a standard chair mat or carpet.

    3) Corrupted image in RAM, possibly from an OS image in RAM, being put to sleep too many times, and needs to be refreshed; or that image in RAM being corrupted from the current Solar event – (1.8 years still to go according to NASA) “Scientists believe it could damage everything from emergency services’ systems, hospital equipment, banking systems and air traffic control devices, through to “everyday” items such as home computers, iPods and Sat Navs.”
    J.R. Guthrie

  8. Joe M.
    February 6, 2012 at 6:14 PM

    J.R., the following is a true story that happened to me this past Saturday, 2/4/12. You know I am a Macintosh user but this could and will happen to any kind of computer, given enough time. This is the 5th time over the years that I can remember that a crash or head failure has happened to me personally. No matter haw many times it happens, I always get that old sinking feeling when it does. The preaching and prophecies that you do to your many followers should not be overlooked by any of them! Read and Heed.

    I got up Saturday morning and when I sat at my trusted MacBook to read E-mail and catch up on the daily news. After waking the computer, I was surprised to see a spinning rainbow cursor with no other apparent problems on the desktop. I could move the cursor but could not select anything including “Shut Down” so I could reboot. I had to shut the computer down by forcing it to turn off using the on/off switch.

    After leaving the computer off for several seconds and hoping it started back up to a normal display, I restarted but nothing was right once it got to the desktop. First off the boot process was painstakingly slow but did result in launching several programs that auto launch at startup. One of those programs is the application Mail. The Mail app itself was opened to the desktop to about the size of a postage stamp. I was able to open it to its normal size but I was stuck with a horrible sinking feeling in my guts. All my mail was missing! I mean everything! Some of my saved mail went back to the early 1990s. The only thing that looked right was the cursor. It was no longer spinning and worked as it should have.

    The computer was sluggish and did not respond normally to anything I was trying to do. Since two days earlier I had updated to the most recent OS software (10.7.3), I decided to use the bootable Install DVD I had made to boot from and to take a look at the hard drive, by using the included Disk Utility. If you don’t know how to make your own bootable Install DVD, I suggest you learn how. It is not absolutely necessary to have one but is extremely useful if you do.

    Once the DVD booted and after selecting Disk Utility, I selected the main computer hard drive and then selected Verify Disk. Shortly after verification started, the process abruptly quit and I was presented with an interesting note on the screen telling me that the hard drive had too many errors and could not be verified. I was advised to backup all the files that I could, reformat the drive, and then retest it. I tried to Verify again and was given the same result.

    The drive was obviously working as I had booted from it before booting from the Install DVD. What happened? A head crash is what happened and data on the drive was corrupt. I took the advice that was posted on the screen and since my computer automatically does hourly WiFi backups, I skipped the advice to backup files.

    I repartitioned and reformatted the computer’s hard drive from the DVD using Disk Utility. All went smoothly and within minutes, I was able to Verify the disk and it tested good. Using the same bootable Install DVD that I had made, I reinstalled software on the hard drive from the backup. Four hours after waking up and finding that I had a corrupt hard drive, I was up and running again without losing any software or saved files. It was as if nothing bad had happened to the computer and I was a happy man.

    All is well…


    p.s. I have been making backups of my computer hard drives since the 1980s. It has saved my bacon many times over the years not only for hard drive failures but for accidents caused by deleting something I should not have deleted.

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