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Data Recovery: Can you live doing recovery on SSD alone?

Tue 27 Mar, 2018 | No comments

Do you actually think you will be able to survive doing data recovery with only SSD?

Its a hard question to ask you guys and some people don't like answering this.

Let me explain why I am writing this and let ME give you the details I have seen feel free to tell me what you think I am right and where I am wrong???!!!

As you guys know I talk to people all over the world. People email me for problems, and I do all I can to help, I talk on Facebook messenger to people that own companies making tools and people that run just SSD recovery companies. I think because people know I am upfront about everything and they are coming to me because they trust me, some people one on one will be very frank about their business and how much they make. I am getting more answers than I use to about people and the truth about what is lining up with how I am seeing business these days in all SSD. But for a long time I think people have made it sound like a great business and they are making money hand over fist in SSD and that they sound like its doing better than the glory days doing spinning disk recovery.

I have eventually gotten almost anyone I ever talked to online to share the real numbers and what they are making, and how much people will pay, and how many devices they get in, and how many were successful recovery they got paid for.

I know why people wouldn’t want to answer it, and I have narrowed it down to three groups of people.

1: People who think it is the future and don’t know everything about it, so are hopeful it is a business they can do and sounds interesting to them.

2: People who have bought everything and spent tons of money on equipment and are starting to realize that it’s really hard to make a living at doing any kind of SSD recovery but if they puff up their chest and keep saying its good and its great and I can do it “most of the time” that we will get more business and even though they are just scraping by can still make a good future out of it.

3: The people like me that have been through 6-10 generations of SSD recovery tools, and drives and have seen it turn from non-encrypted devices, to encrypted devices. Spending more than 20k-30k on tools specifically to do SSD, and spending hundreds and hundreds of hours looking at ways to fix the devices, looking at ways to make it affordable, looking at success rates. We know it is a failure. We know you cannot make a living doing SSD. At every turn companies are doing everything they can to make sure you cannot do it, so right when you think you got a solution and can start making money, it all changes.

First I need to divide up SSD into three categories.

1: Actual SSD drives that go into a laptop or computers that are drives the machine runs on.

2: Thumb drives and devices similar to thumb drives.

3: SD Cards and things with epoxy requiring delicate work and pinouts to get to them.

Second: understand there is a big difference between REPAIRING Device (reflow, swapping boards, wiring connections that are broken, solder a new connector on an obvious break) and getting it to run well enough to get data off, vs Chip off (and all versions of soldering SD cards, etc.) you see posts for new equipment to keep buying equipment. It’s a race too, each tool coming out with new devices and adapters as fast as they can in hopes that every time you think you can’t get something done, that this new adapter, and new plug, and new support for pin-outs might be the magic that you need. Plunk down more money.

In my opinion, it might be the REPAIR area that is the only area you can make money doing this job. And I find most of the repairs are not because of some special tool, it’s because of my skills at soldering, or my understanding of the connectors, or the TVS/Diode/Resister/Crack something I can find and see and fix. This area, YES, it’s the Holy Grail. And if you are doing SSD and counting those in your number of success, I beg you to separate it out and run the numbers separately. My bet is you will find that in the numbers 60-80% of successes are these. Not because you had some special tool that could see the cells are burnt 20% so it must be a zero or one (fictional tool, kind of).

You know why you are seeing so many posts for chip-off, and successes? It’s because someone is trying to sell you something, and most of what they are selling you are lies. Even if the people are not selling you a tool, maybe they are selling you the SSD service and can charge you fees even when they fail and that is how they are getting paid. Not on the successes. So if they talk a good game and can convince people they are the best, who will know if they can only fix 40% of what comes in the door. Yes, 40% and I think that is an optimist number. After talking to dozens and dozens of people, with every variety of tool, and even training classes including “agencies” and top people from these all over the world, with every single training class under their belt, even law enforcement only classes because it is so secret we cannot sell to everyone in the public cause they will find out what we can do (sarcasm), and even vendor tool and vendor classes no matter how much money they cost, the numbers are usually less than 40% success. So money does not solve the problem. People with all of it are still limited success with only a few exceptions. People that read this post that are the exception know who I mean and probably should not comment for some of the reasons listed above in those very rare cases. But those are not what the rest of us get or see, and in those rare cases, are terrible business models because some of those that are possible are because of let’s just say ½ million dollars or more invested maybe every year. You cannot ever, and I repeat ever, make that money back in this market as a private “data recovery” company.

First Category - SSD drives: I would say from experience and from the thousands of people I know that do it, the numbers of successful repairs are like 20%. Yes, they cannot repair and recovery over 80% when there is a real problem on these drives, no matter whose tool. Chip-off is mostly impossible on these devices, too many chip, encrypted and very difficult. I have never ever seen one since 2011 that was actually done correctly done with chip off (moved to another board I have, but not put in a machine and reassembled one chip at a time). I have been round and round with tons of people that say they sent it off and they did chip-off and when it gets back the stickers are still original, soldering never touched, etc. but the report says chip-off. That is not to say a tool did not read the chips one at a time through the interface since that is possible on some tools and devices. That’s not the same thing as chip off with all the possibilities of doing damage to a chip in the soldering and removal stages, but if that tool worked the hand full of times, then great. The failures far out weight the successes and when pushed in real situations for these numbers they are low. In addition the world of these drives is changing fast, and firmware changes, encryption changes, etc. It will only get harder from here. This area is the one area that a success can cost between $800 and as high as $6000 depending on who is willing to pay.

Ace Labs PC3000 is the leader in the field. Here is a recent article that proves some of what I am telling you. Keep in mind you will be spending quite a bit of money on Ace Labs tools alone if you want to do SSD. “Not Thumb drives and SD cards” that is different and there is a different tool in most cases. Read it for yourself.

ACE LABS QUOTE "Almost all present-day SSDs have hardware data encryption. That’s why the chip-off method becomes useless for accessing the digital evidence on a damaged device."

https://articles.forensicfocus.com/2018/02/12/techno-mode-the-fastest-way-to-access-digital-evidence-on-damaged-ssds/

The second/third category of thumb drives and SD cards: Doing chip off for thumb drives and SD cards is also a pile of lies. The vendors that claim they can do it are primarily selling equipment because selling the service is a complete loser. If you are trying to do Chip off on SD cards and Thumb drives, the success rate is a little bit less than 50%. Think about what that mean……50% loss. So let me explain the business model.

So let’s say you buy the tool for SD cards and thumb drives from another leader in that field which I will not mention at the moment. It can take about 2 1/2 days to do the work for the recovery which is mostly manual hands on. You have to sand down the chips to get past epoxy, you have to resolder and solder pins, if you even have the pinout chart for you device. But let’s put that aside and just do math for a second from a business view.

What will the market pay for a SD card and a thumb drive? Well if you want more devices to come in you charge less, that works out to people willing to pay on average the number I hear is $130 up to a high end of $300 which is rare. $200 seems to be about the sweet spot the public can afford. I have heard people that do get upwards of $900, and that slows the business down and get less devices, but you get paid more for less work. Either way works fine, but the outcome of the income is not much different. The other weird thing is that it does not seem that size matters here. People do not think that a SD card with 2gigs is any different than an SD card with 128gigs. To them the price is the same. People you tell “Hey this is a 128 gig card, that’s big, so your price is $900” they will tell you sorry never mind most of the time. Right? That is what you guys are seeing too?

Ignore marketing, overhead, utilities and training and business related expenses like rent and business licenses and everything; let’s just talk about the income.

So do the math. Here is the business:

Let’s say your tools for the first year will be around $5k USD. I am being way too generous with this because it will usually be so much more costly, plus you will have new adapters and new licensing fees every year.

You decide you want more devices coming in so you have more chances. So you chose $200 a device for recovery.

People start sending you thumb drives and SD cards; start with say 2 a week. It takes you 2 ½ days sometimes to do a job. Two a weeks is possible if you are working 40-50 hours. Maybe you can handle some more business with some gaps in between time waiting for things to happen, but not a lot more time free.

Potential at 100% repair for a year = 52 weeks x 2 at $200 = 104 devices for a total of $20,800

You lose at least 1/2 of that, remember if you are lucky you can get 100% but over time you will drop below 50% success as everyone I have talked to finds out eventually. So your income will actually be $10,400. 

Your tools to start were $5000. So now your income after expenses is $5,400 in year one, at BEST the 100% was $15,800. And now at the end of the year you have renewals for your licenses to get updates which are necessary to do business next year, and maybe new adapters maybe at $2000?? And so far none of this included anything else like new computers, or software, or shipping, or dropbox to get clients their files. So maybe at the end of the year after fees, you end up with on the low end $3400 and the high end $13,800.

If say you spend more so you can do SSD versions to work on firmware instead of chip off or soldering, $10,000. I don’t think anyone in the business right now will tell you they didn’t spend at least 10k and that again is a low number.

Let’s up the number of devices and people send you 3 drives a week = 156 drives.

Potentially you can get $800 a drive, so potentially you can make 156x$800 = $124,800.00

Now you lose 80% of that because it’s just not possible, even if that number was wrong it won’t go over 40% success. So you can make $24,900 to high end $49,920.

Your tool cost subtracted at a minimum of $10,000 from $24,900 = $14,900 (or $49,920 – 10k = $39,920).

I will also tell you for the drives that work in Techno mode; it takes sometimes weeks to copy them. Your machines will be busy, and you will work a lot to make this work. You end up putting the drive in a single chip read mode, and you copy all the chips. Then you try to reassemble. That takes like 2 weeks at a time in some cases, again being generous.

So doing these numbers, it seems hard to make a living doing only SSD. You really have to increase the amount of successful devices to be able to make it work.

So my final opinion is that a majority of these companies selling devices because the sale if the recovery equipment is more lucrative that the income possible to produce with it.

I prefer we are all open about it and what is actually possible so we can help each other, rather than just keeping this business a mystery. Does it hurt sometimes to talk about it like this? Yes, it’s very painful to look at it, but I think it helps to be realistic. So please let me know if you guys think I am wrong or have made a mistake? Let’s talk about it!

Scott A. Moulton / CCFS CCFT CDRP DREC CDRE
Certified Computer Forensic Specialist
Certified Computer Forensic Technician
Certified Data Recovery Professional
Certified Data Recovery Expert
Data Recovery Expert Certification Instructor
http://www.myharddrivedied.com/data-recovery-training/
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My Hard Drive Died & Forensic Strategy Services
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601b Industrial Court, Woodstock, Ga 30189
Phone: 770-926-5588 Fax: 770-926-7089
Web: www.MyHardDriveDied.com
Web: www.ForensicStrategy.com

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