Nikola, please tell us about HddSurgery. What first gave you the idea to develop tools for data recovery and computer forensics?
I would not call it an idea, it was more a need for such tools. We have data recovery and forensics operations here and we had a problem that we needed to solve. At that time, seven years ago, we tried all the tools that were on the market.
To our regret, all the tools that we could buy were bad quality and could not help us in job well or could not help us every time as they are supposed to. It was all up to engineer who is doing data recovery and forensics, his/her experience and good mood. There were obviously repeatability problems.So, there was a need for tools that will help our technicians and engineers to do recovery processes well and repeat them well every single time. We needed high quality tools that will standardize the procedure, and make risks absolutely minimal.
Having such high quality tools gives good base to expand jobs since you can easily train new technicians and engineers in a short time, because you have a standard how things are done. That is maybe the essence of our success, by making high quality tools we are making standard procedures and solutions for problems with hard drives.
Can you describe the process of development? What were the steps from the initial idea to the first functional prototype?
It was not easy for sure. Making something that has not been made is never easy. We were guided by a functionality, practicality and demand for the tools. There were some technical problems that needed to be solved.
Material should not be ferromagnetic, but it should have enough strength and hardness. It was much easier when we found right alloy of aluminium for the job. But, there was a question of dimensions. Since it has not been done before we had to make them good and right enough, not more not less but just right.
I think in time we got the feeling about the forces and pressures we needed. Making tools with 0.01mm tolerances makes man and machines work to the maximum. There is not much space for errors. You would not believe how big 0.01mm is sometimes.
How did you feel when you first took your product to market? What prompted the decision to make a move into the commercial space?
Like it was yesterday. We were not guided by sales ideas when we started making tools, we needed tools for ourselves. When we saw how functional the tools were, we got idea that other colleagues could find them very useful.
If you ask me how I felt, I was very nervous, but not about how everything would end up. I was nervous about whether people would like our idea. They seem to like it very much.
Who are your clients now?
I would not call them our clients. People who buy our tools are our colleagues. We get a lot of inquiries by end users, but we do not advise them to buy tools. There is a lot more in data recovery/ forensics then a head change. In the right hands our tools show their best. In wrong hands they can create damage that is even greater than the original problem was.
In the first few years we had clients mainly from data recovery companies because they needed to do a lot of head changes, and bearing replacements every day. Nowadays we get clients from computer forensics companies and institutes. They do not have need to use head combs 10 times a day, but when they do they need to know that the process will go without any problems.
Tell us about some of the current products and solutions offered by HddSurgery.
Of course, everything began with Head replacement tools, but in time we added other various tools like Spindle replacement tools or Head Unstuck tools. Currently, we are talking about 24 different products. Most of them are tools for head replacement process (17 tools), followed by three tools for solving head stiction problem.
We are proud of our Spindle Replacement Tool, which is unique solution for jammed spindle problem on Seagate 7200.11 and 7200.10 hard drives. These hard drives are known as very prone to motor failures.
Also, we are offering Workbench for easy and safe support when performing operations on hard drives.
What are the main tools or functionality within HddSurgery which are typically of the greatest benefit to a forensic investigator and why?
The main benefit is that the investigator does not need to be in “training” for head change or head unstick problem when he encounters a damaged drive. He/she can follow instructions and do the job safely and in the right way, although he did not do it before.
For example, forensic investigators do not change heads on Samsung HD204UI 2Tb HDD every day, but when they need to do it, then it has to be done properly.
Looking to the future, how do you think the world of digital forensics will change over the next few years?
I think it will go more and more into the smartphone area since people spend a lot of time using portable devices. Technology of portable devices is the fastest developing and growing one compared with other IT technologies. So, digital forensics has to adjust to this technology trend.
In your opinion, what is the biggest single challenge currently facing those working in digital forensics?
My opinion is that the time is the biggest problem. Technology is going in so many directions, but it’s still all under one hat of forensics or data recovery. In essence, we are talking about totally different approaches. Keeping up with all of them is the biggest challenge…
What does the future hold for HddSurgery?
We will continue developing solutions for problems that are not solved by now. It will help us in our work, so we can have a better success rate.
After tools and solutions prove themselves on our “battle ground”, we offer these solutions to colleagues. These days we are working on a solution to detect media damage, so we can prevent damage of donor heads in the future. It should be a big thing in data recovery if we manage to do it.
Of course, we will keep following trends in computer storage industry. Hard drive manufacturers are striving to increase their products’ capacity and performance by implementing different solutions, from shingled magnetic recording technology up to helium filled HDD casings. I can promise that we will give our best to respond to these challenges and to provide solutions and support for data recovery/forensics professionals.
Nikola Radovanović is CEO of HddSurgery, which was founded in 2009 and provides hard disk data recovery tools for digital forensics professionals. You can find out more on their website, or follow HddSurgery on Twitter and Facebook.