My parents went on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Ireland last spring. They took most of the photos with my dad's Galaxy S5. They were stored on internal storage, and not an SD card. The photos were being backed up into Google, synced with his Gmail / Google Photos account.

Late last summer, unfortunately (and you know the rest of the story), as he was clearing photos off of his phone, he accidentally deleted the photos, and wound up wiping them from Google Drive as well.

He passed away this past winter.

A couple weeks ago, I did my first successful data recovery job on a microSD card (with photorec) for a client who had lost photos when his S6 was reset (I've done several data recovery jobs for various clients using photorec and other Linux utilities, but this was the first time I attempted a job on a microSD card that came from a phone).

That got me thinking: Could I, conceivably, attempt to recover my dad's photos from his internal storage?

I have the same phone (also a Galaxy S5), and live 5 hours away from my mom, so I'm doing some testing on my phone now.

Unlike my dad's phone, my phone is encrypted. Other than that, there shouldn't be any difference.

After some research, I've enabled Developer Options on my phone, turned on USB Logging, installed ADB onto my Ubuntu machine, and have given permission to the phone that my computer can connect to it over adb.

I then cd'd into where I want the backup to be saved on my computer, ran adb backup full-backup.adb -apk -all, and hoped for the best. Because my phone is encrypted, I was forced to enter in a password for the backup itself to be encrypted.

The backup "completed" almost immediately (the phone said "backup finished"), indicating to me that no backup was taken at all. The file name I see on the computer is "backup.ad" and NOT "backup.adb".


  1. Why did my phone indicate that the backup finished when it clearly did not? How can I continue to troubleshoot this?
  2. If I am able to eventually get the backup, how can I then go about extracting the data from the adb backup in such a way that photorec can read the data? I am hoping that there's a way to mount the image (since photorec requires an actual "device" (or image) and won't run on individual folders).
  3. Any better ideas as to how I might be able to recover these photos? I do understand that, since so much time has passed, these photos may not be recoverable. But it's worth a shot! I exhausted, a long time ago, all other possibilities (I scrutinized my dad's phone and his account in Google many times over).
  • That makes two different (though related) questions better kept apart. First, adb backup is a "logical" or "file based" backup that won't help you with your case (PhotoRec had nothing to work on with that). Why adb backup failed as it did is better asked as a separate question. What you need is a "physical" or "block based" backup, i.e. a "disk image" – which can only be achieved using root powers. I assume your device isn't rooted, and neither has a custom recovery installed? – Izzy May 12 '17 at 14:01
  • That's correct. Neither my device nor my dad's is rooted. Your comment is what I feared, as to-date, I haven't been able to get the device to show up as a mount point. in linux under the mount command. Thank you. – David W May 12 '17 at 14:43
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    Don't just yet throw in the towel, I was just verifying. Go to TWRP.me and type "S5" into the search box. Check if your variant is covered. If so, download the image. Boot your S5 into fastboot/bootloader mode, then (from where the image file resides) run fastboot boot twrp.img (replace twrp.img by the corresponding file name). If your device then boots TWRP (unlikely if not unlocked, but worth a try), you can access your device with root powers (until rebooted). If not, there's still odin and heimdall for Sammy devices. – Izzy May 12 '17 at 14:49
  • @Izzy Exactly. Samsung devices have no fastboot support. – Grimoire May 12 '17 at 16:36
  • @DeathMaskSalesman that's why I pointed to the Odin and, since OP stated Linux, Heimdall tag-wikis. I'm not that familiar with Samsung devices, but AFAIR those tools also allow backing up partitions (correct me if I'm wrong) – as MTK devices support not only flashing images to, but also reading them from the device ;) – Izzy May 12 '17 at 16:39

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