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The most common reasons for data loss and how you prevent them.
Moritz
Moritz Ober | Cyber Security Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2018

How Data Gets Lost

One click to save our data. The first draft of the letter got overwritten by the second. That is why since the invention of modern computers we don’t have to worry about our data, right? Unfortunately, not even close: data loss is happening again and again, for uncountable reasons. This is putting companies (but also private users) at risk as the accidental loss of data in most cases is not only causing trouble and very time consuming. It may also do serious financial damage to a business. In this article, we sum up the greatest risks for digital data and provide you with solutions how to keep these risks at a minimum.

Top 5 Reasons for Losing Data

Causes for data loss are manifold. A quick research by search engine presents a variety of lists with the most common reasons:

  • Technical Failure
  • Human Errors
  • Malware and Hacker Attacks
  • Data Theft
  • External Causes

Unfortunately, many of these risks are hard to control, especially if they are connected through a chain of events. There are basically three big groups of risks:

  • Technical issues (production- or user-caused)
  • Human errors (inside or outside a company)
  • Environmental causes (flooding, thunderstorm …)

1. Technical Reasons for Data Loss

Every kind of data storage is, above all, human-made and thus error-prone. Backblaze, a provider for backup solutions, expects hardware to fail on production-based issues especially at the beginning of duty. This means, in short, the hard drive is damaged off-the-shelf. Still, even flawless data storage will eventually suffer from deterioration. Flash-based storage, such as USB sticks and SSD drives, support only a pre-defined number of writing processes which means after a certain (though very high) number of saved files they will end useless. “Classical” hard drives on the opposite include mechanical parts which are prone to end literally broken (e.g. through concussion).

Further threats include (depending on the kind of storage used) demagnetization, issues with the power supply or simply the eventual end of life. To play, reaching the maximum lifespan, which differs between the different technologies and manufacturers, should be expected within 3 to 5 (respectively 5 to 10) years.

Physical damage counts among the most frequently appearing reasons for data loss. This is proven by many surveys, such as the one conducted by data management firm Storagecraft among IT professionals. It appears also reasonable that mobile devices are rated critically within this statistics: damage through wrong storage, drops and fractions, as well as increased deterioration in general are much more likely to appear to mobiles compared to stationaries.

There is further no general solution for these issues: redundant backups and regular migration of data onto new storage media may decrease the likelihood of suffering from failure. Additionally, auto-save functions and system- or software-based restore points may buffer smaller outages.

Yet another good way to prevent data loss is the migration of files to a cloud storage, especially facilitating the protection of large amounts of data. You may find [our blog post] (https://www.boxcryptor.com/de/blog/post/data-security-cloud-vs-nas/) about the differences between NAS- and cloud-based data preservation to be particularly helpful.

Furthermore, cloud migration supports prevention of the second group of risks for your digital data: human errors. User-caused, technical data loss is the major connection between human and technical reasons for losing data.

2. Human Reasons for Data Loss

Many factors of daily business routine may lead to data loss, as a result of usage errors. Local hardware is prone to various forms of physical damage, as explained above. Getting dropped by employees, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Another reason for technical failure are spilled food and drinks, as they can deal permanent damage.

Also the loss of hardware should not be an underestimated risk: especially small devices (e.g. USB sticks and SD cards) often fall by the wayside and get lost all too easy in times of mobile working places. This applies to mobile phones, tablets, and laptops equally. Additional harm may be caused by the data getting into the wrong hands after a device loss, but we will come back to that in a moment.
Before we want to show an example where especially cloud storage may proof a good insurance to data loss: accidental deletion of data or, even worse, formatting a hard drive by error. In most cases this happens due to the ignorance of untrained employees and may also result in severe damage. While simply deleted files usually end up in a computers recycle bin and thus can be restored without further ado, a carefully erased data drive requires expert know-how (and often expensive help) to regain information – given it’s possible at all.

A cloud provider instead keeps extensive data backups, facilitating both versioning and restoration of accidentally deleted data. User-induced formatting is not possible at all within a cloud environment.

At this point we have to take a step backwards. As mentioned above, data loss is not always permanent. This may be a blessing in disguise in case of accidental deletion. But if sensitive data gets missing a data breach or theft may be likewise.

Lost and insufficiently protected data (e.g. by passwords or other measures) are easy prey for industrial espionage and intelligence authorities, falling into the wrong hands all too easy. Both are mistakes to be easily avoided by trained users. You may find further information in our blog entries about the worst passwords and 10 tips for cyber security.

Other ways how a company’s IT structure may be lastingly harmed include inadvertent malware downloads (such as viruses and ransomware). Again, it is crucial to take precautions measures in a proper way, where sensitization and training of staff is only a starting point.

Some of these precautious actions to prevent malicious attacks could include the containment of shadow IT, restriction of administrative access for software installation among employees, or active auditing of user activities. Still, all these options mainly focus on the prevention of “external attacks”, while (un-)harmful insider activities may pose a serious threat to data security, too. Especially leaving employees who previously had access to confidential or sensitive data must be handled with care, making sustainable data and user management an imperative.

This reveals a flaw to cloud storage security, as these services offer strong physical security of data and a good overview on user activity, but also are prone to “leaks”, if their infrastructure would be compromised. Fortunately, users can take care of this problem themselves by using strong encryption – like offered by Boxcryptor – to render unauthorized accessed data useless. Besides the absolute access control (even if data gets lost or stolen), additional features can improve and facilitate access management.
This way, companies profit from the cloud service’s flexibility but are also safe from an immediate, technical blackout. And they may also prevent the third, big source of risks for data: loss by environmental impact.

3. External Reasons for Data Loss

No matter how well your local hardware is secured: your chances to predict environmental impacts (such as flooding, thunderstorms, or fire) are very limited and there is no way to stop them from happening. Depending on your location those risks may be reduced, but relative safety can only be guaranteed through geographically independent and redundant storage locations. The need for protection against technical and human failure adds again to the expenses on each location, making especially small and medium-sized business face impossible tasks. A trade of expenses and risks is mandatory.

Even cloud storage providers eventually face these challenges but they have one big advantage against other companies: These considerations are part of their business model. Independently located data centers pose a core feature of big cloud provider’s strategy, as well as redundant backups, preventing data loss in case of losing one location. Additionally, cloud data centers are way better protected against minor natural disasters and stand under heavy surveillance and protection. Broken systems will be handled by the provider as well, minimizing any physical threats to your data.

Aliens, Meteors and Shark Tornados – No Causes for Concern!

As pointed out so far, many of the threats to data security can be avoided. Most of these measures are even quite easy to implement, such as using the cloud in combination with strong encryption software or proper training and sensitization of employees.
Individual adjustments may vary between different companies. And although there is no final solution for some issues: Be assured that you have at least not to worry about aliens stealing your data, meteors striking your company headquarters or shark tornados devastating your business – for now.

What we are certain about is, that proper awareness about the risks of computer usage poses the first step to data security. Thanks to the physical safety of cloud-stored data and additional security through encryption by Boxcryptor you can even achieve a higher level of data security than without using online services.

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Free Infographic: How Data Gets Lost

You may find a short, graphical summary of the most common risks for data security attached below.
Additionally, you can download an extensive overview about potential threats to your data in our free and exclusive infographic.

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