We’ve all been there: you’re working on a project, save it, and suddenly your computer freezes. Then, you get the dreaded “blue screen of death.” You restart your computer, hoping to salvage at least some of your work. You try double-clicking on the file, and you’re hit with an error:
“The file is corrupt and cannot be opened.”
You click on the only option: “OK,” and curse under your breath. Time to start all over again from scratch.
What happened? How did this happen? Will it happen again?
If you don’t know how to avoid data corruption from happening in the first place, then it’s likely your files will get corrupted again. That’s why we’re here to help!
In this article, we’ll cover why data gets corrupted in the first place and how to prevent these issues from occurring again. If you want to save time, money, and heartache in the future, then read on!
How Do Files Get Corrupted?
There are several ways that a file can become corrupted. Here are the most common:
A storage device may have been interrupted while it was being written to. For example, if you’re saving a file and you lose power without the saving process being finished, there is a pretty high likelihood that the file that was being saved got corrupted.
Similarly, a program could also crash due to a bug while you’re saving a file, or you may accidentally unplug a USB drive while you’re saving a file to it—both produce the same result: a corrupted, unusable file.
Think of it this way: you’re writing something down, but suddenly, you’re struck by a sudden paralysis of your hands, rendering you unable to write. If you look at the piece of paper that you were writing on, the information on it is incomplete. If you were to show this piece of paper to someone, they wouldn’t be able to understand it because the message is incomplete.
Computers largely operate by the same logic. If something happens while you’re saving a file that interrupts that process, the resulting file is likely to be corrupted.
Hardware failures can also cause your files to get corrupted. The most likely culprit for this is an old or faulty hard drive, whose disk sectors may already be going bad due to age. In turn, the files that are saved in these sectors get corrupted.
And last but certainly not least, malware and viruses are yet another culprit behind your file corruption-related woes. The problematic pieces of software will generally mess up anything that they touch in your drives—including your files.
How to repair Your Corrupted Files
To be completely honest, corrupted files comprise a situation where prevention is better than cure. There is not a lot that you can do with a corrupted file, other than the following:
Revert to an older or autosaved version. If you were using a Microsoft Office program when your file got corrupted (e.g., your computer restarted or the program crashed), there’s likely already an autosaved version. Simply reopen the Office program that you were using, and you’ll be asked if you want to recover the autosaved version.
If you use certain programs for work (e.g., Photoshop), you may want to check if they have an “autosave” function and enable it. Doing this one small thing could save you hours, if not days, of work!
Alternatively, if one of your Windows files got corrupted, you can use your operating system’s built-in System File Checker. To use this utility, start by opening an elevated Command Prompt. Open the Start menu, and type “cmd” into the search bar. Then, click on “Run as administrator.”
Click “Yes” in the window that pops up, type the following into the command prompt, and hit “Enter” on your keyboard:
Windows will then scan for any corrupt system files and then repair them automatically, ensuring that your operating system is in perfect shape.
Finally, you can also use various file recovery programs to restore corrupted files, such as:
- Untrunc (free): Used to recover damaged MP4 files; requires a similar, unbroken video, ideally from the same camera)
- Recuva (free): Pro version costs $19.95; used to recover files from damaged drives)
Before performing any of these steps, however, ensure that your computer is free from any type of malware by performing a full scan with your preferred antivirus program.
5 Effective Ways to Prevent Data Corruption From Happening
As we’ve stated, you’re better off preventing data corruption than desperately looking for a way to recover a file that’s as good as lost. But how do you prevent your files from being corrupted? Don’t worry! Here are five quick tips to avoid losing any of your precious files:
1. Copy, don’t cut
You’re probably no stranger to the Cut and Copy functions: one moves files from one folder to another, and the other makes a copy of that file in the other folder. If you want to be as safe as possible from file corruption, you should copy files, not cut them.
This way, even if your file transfer gets interrupted, you’ll still have the untouched copies, which you can try to copy again. Once you’re done copying the files, you can simply delete them, instead of risking them being corrupted by cutting them.
2. Have backups in place
Making backups regularly is one of the best ways (if not the best way) of preventing data corruption. Did an old ZIP file full of family photos get corrupted? Just replace it with an identical backup. Is your hard drive starting to show SMART errors? Just back up its files. Did a virus corrupt a bunch of your work files? Restore them from a backup!
Most data corruption issues are easily remedied by backups, hence why we’re calling them the best way of preventing data corruption. However, where do you start?
Some people still like to back things up on portable hard drives or USB sticks, or even old-school CDs and DVDs. Personally, we’re big fans of cloud storage since this lets you upload your files to the safety of the cloud, and they’ll always be there when you need them – and can be accessed from multiple devices.
Wondering where to start when looking for a cloud provider? Relax, and check our detailed guide to the best cloud storage providers.
Another popular alternative is to use a Network Attached Device (NAS) that’s something of a hybrid between cloud storage and a physical drive.
3. Watch out for malware
Viruses, trojans, and other forms of malware can infect your system and corrupt both your operating system files as well as your personal files. Given this, you should have plenty of defenses in place against malware.
The most important of these defenses involves practicing safe web-browsing habits: you should avoid clicking on dodgy links, be wary of emails from strangers (or iffy emails from friends), and only download software that you’re sure is safe. Stay on the “legal” side of the web, and you’ll generally be fine.
If all else fails, however, your operating system should be secured by antivirus software, such as Windows’ built-in Windows Defender. Remember to update your antivirus software as well as scan your system regularly to keep your files safe from various online threats!
4. Safely eject external storage devices
In a rush, you may have pulled out a USB stick or portable hard drive that was plugged into your PC without causing any issues. However, this may not always be the case: randomly unplugging USBs from your computer can cause various issues, including corrupting the files inside it.
As such, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and you should strive to safely remove your USB devices. To do this, perform the following steps:
- Click on “Show hidden icons” on your taskbar.
- Click on “Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media” in the small menu that pops up.
- Click on “Eject [device name]” to safely remove your USB device.
- Unplug the device from your computer.
5. Be SMART about your hard drives
If your computer has a hard drive that’s more than 5 years old, you might want to start worrying about it. Luckily, all hard drives use SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) to detect if they’re starting to fail, which can cause your files to get corrupted.
If you boot up your PC one day and encounter an error that says something along the lines of “SMART failure predicted… Press F1 to continue,” it may be time to move on to the next step:
Keep Your Files Safe With These Reliable Cloud Storage Providers
Simply put, cloud storage providers store your files online (also known as storing your files in the cloud). If your files are stored online, you’ll be able to access them from anywhere (as long as you have an Internet connection. As such, cloud storage is a perfect solution for storing backups of your most important files.
If you’re looking for safe, reliable, and secure cloud storage providers, here are our top three picks that have emerged from all our testing:
Switzerland-based pCloud (starts at $49.99 per year for 500 GB of storage) has been around since 2013, and they’ve come quite a long way. They offer online backups, file syncing, and integrated local drives (imagine accessing a drive that’s on the cloud via Windows Explorer!).
However, pCloud’s standout feature is its lifetime plan option: For a one-time payment of $199, you’ll have 500 gigabytes of cloud storage to do with as you please, with the option of upgrading to a bigger, better plan.
There’s no catch—no monthly subscription, no additional fees. If you’re looking for a long-term solution for backing your files up, then look no further than pCloud!
Sync.com (free, paid option starts at $8 per month for 2 terabytes of storage), on the other hand, offers a very secure cloud storage option. For the low, low price of $0 (yes, that’s not a typo), Sync will give you 5 gigabytes of cloud storage, all wrapped up in a highly secure package. Sync ensures that it meets very strict privacy laws, such as HIPAA, Canada’s PIPEDA and PHIPA, and even the European GDPR.
All of the files that you upload to Sync’s servers will be encrypted, and only you will have the decryption key, ensuring that all of those embarrassing high school pictures (or whatever else you want to store) will remain hidden and completely secure.
Dropbox is one of the most widely recognized cloud storage providers, and for good reason. It offers a wide array of easy-to-use features that are perfect for sharing, syncing, and collaboration, such as real-time updates on any file edits, which are synced for all of the members of a team.
What’s more—all of these features come at pretty attractive prices:
- For individuals, plans start at $9.99 per month for a whopping 2 terabytes of storage.
- For small teams, a “Family” plan (just tell them that you’re distant cousins or something) is priced at $16.99 per month for 2 terabytes for 6 users.
- For larger teams, plans start at $15 monthly per user, with 5 terabytes of storage shared between all of those users.
With these cloud storage providers, you’ll be able to safely store your personal and work files and easily copy them over in the event that the original files on your computer get corrupted.
Keep Your Files Uncorrupted
Data corruption is a serious problem, but it doesn’t have to be. With these tips, you can make sure that your files stay safe and secure. Start backing your files up today, and you’ll be safe from any corruption-related issues in the future!