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5 ways you can easily lose your data (and probably your job)

Many computer users treat data security as an afterthought when acquiring and configuring a new computer. While big businesses understand the risks, the most “at risk” group is often small businesses and self employed business owners, who often do not have the expertise in place to prevent data leaks.

Data loss is more than just losing a few computer files, often it can destroy a business.

According to the University of Texas 94% of businesses that have a major data loss do not survive, 43% will cease trading immediately, and 51% are affected so severely that they close within the next 2 years.

Shockingly 77% of tape backups tended to fail when tested according to the Boston Computing Network. Now how useful are these backups when 3/4 fail?

More worryingly 96% of business computers are never backed up (according to CPSRC)

Why are small businesses and sole traders at such high risk category for data loss?

During my time as a computer security analyst, I observed that the root cause of all inadequate security policies for sole traders and SMEs often comes down to one or more of the following reasons.

  • Inadequate knowledge of data security, due to lack of technical expertise available to small businesses
  • Insufficient time for sole traders to invest in learning how to use backups
  • Reluctance in maintaining a scheduled backup plan.
  • Importantly: failing to test integrity of backups to make sure they are safe and error free to recover from.

In this article I will analyse the various ways in which data can be lost, and how to avoid losing your data.

What are the causes of data loss and corruption?

Source: David M. Smith, Ph.D., Pepperdine University

Study by David M. Smith suggests that data loss takes place due to the following reasons

Root causes of data loss

Occurrence %

Hardware failure


Human error


Software corruption




Computer viruses


Hardware destruction


With that in mind, let’s beging knocking out the main reasons for data loss one by one.

1. Treat computers like a ticking time bomb, expect them to fail spontaneously.

Mechanical hard drives eventually wear down and at some point they will grind to a halt, although before doing so they will sparingly loss some of your valuable data. If you computer gives off warnings that there are missing files, and you’re certain it’s not a software issue. Chances are that your hardware (more importantly your hard drive is to blame).

There is no two ways about it, every hard drive fails at one time or another, it’s a given! So you can manage this by creating backups on a completely separate backup machine. A secondary hard drive can be great, a NAS with mirrored hard drive (basically a backup of the backup) is preferable. In addition to this you should account for data that might be created and edited away from your workstation, or to hedge the risk away from flood theft or fire damage. A good way to account for this is to use online backup, read the online backup reviews section here for the best recommendations.

2. Accept that at some point someone is going to accidentally delete an important file.

You can’t trust anyone let alone yourself to accidentally delete your files, or be reckless with computer equipment by hitting the power button on a computer instead of shutting down properly. So accept that at some stage you will hit delete accidentally and lose an important file and not realise it. This is sadly inevitable and happens to the best of us. The worse part is you only realise you lost the file after weeks of going without it. The only real solution is to back up, using a service that also supports versioning history so you can go back up an earlier version of the file.

3. When you start getting error messages from your software act promptly.

Having lived through Windows XP, I’m well aware of how badly software can play up. The BSOD (blue screen of death) was a common occurance for me, and almost became a daily ritual. Although Windows has come along a long way since then. There’s no denying that your files and data are vulnerable to software bugs.

If you receive an error message, you will most often be able to perform a google search on it, and locate a page on the web which wil help you resolve it. Do not ignore software glitches, they can take out your entire system.

4. Lock up, lock up, lock up.

There was an epidemic in the UK a while back of smartly dressed thieves going into busy offices and swiping laptops off of unattended desks. This led to a nationwide shake-up of computer security, leading to workers requiring to lock their laptops onto their desks using a Kensington lock.

While your office may have these security policies in place, what about your home office or when out an about working in a train or coffee shop. Be sure to take take your Kensington lock with you, and lock up all your computers and other equipment to your desk to avoid theft from burglary.

5. It’s a given, make sure your anti virus is up to date

Unless you’ve never used a computer before in your life [or just used macs], you should be aware of the need for good anti virus software. Windows is a prime hunting ground for script kiddies who want to exploit vulnerabilities in the system. The best anti virus suites that  I’ve used have been avast, f-prot and AVG, all of them are available as free versions for home users.

However no antivirus software is 100% safe, don’t open files that you don’t trust, such as executables and zip files sent via email.

6. Test your backups

Even I’ve been caught short with this one, I created a system image using Acronis once and didn’t test the backup by restoring from it. So after a huge hard drive crash, I needed to recover my data by restoring the image, only problem was that the boot recovery disk did not recognise my hard drives and kept saying “drives not found”, fortunately I was able to work out that I had an out of date boot disk, so after creating a new boot disk I was able to restore.

Every bit of the restoration process needs to be tested, I know you’d rater be doing something else, believe me you won’t realise how important it is until you try to recover one day and the backups fail.

That should do it, if you have any questions fire away. I’d be glad to answer them for you.

One Response to “5 ways you can easily lose your data (and probably your job)”

  1. Joel says:

    It’s a pain in the “you know what” when you lose your files. I never used to backup before, but my work has given me a laptop to use full time that I take away home as well, and they have their own inhouse online backup as well as hard drive encryption and locking. Which is virtually impossible to crack. So I’m sort of safe. I’ve lost my laptop twice and both times I have been able to recover my data with ease.


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