10 Common Causes of Data Loss

By Joe Gillis, VP of Sales, GVC - 31 Jan, 2023
Data Networking Managed Services Services
17 Minutes Read

Data loss is a serious problem for businesses of all sizes— losing files means losing time and money to restore or recover information that is essential to your business. Data loss occurs when data is accidentally deleted or something causes data to become corrupted. Viruses, physical damage or formatting errors can render data unreadable by both humans and software. Losing files and documents often has a lasting impact on your company’s financial health.

Some lost data is recoverable, but this process often requires the assistance of IT professionals and costs time and resources your business could be using elsewhere. In other instances, lost files and information cannot be recovered, making data loss prevention even more essential. You can minimize your business’s potential for data loss by understanding what leads to data loss. Read on for the ten most common causes of data loss, how to prevent them, and tricks for recovering data if the loss does occur.

Effects of Data Loss on Businesses

Data loss is a major inconvenience that disrupts the day-to-day function of any information-based business. When important files and documents are lost, your business must spend time and resources recreating or recovering these files to fill the gaps left by loss. While you may be able to locate hard copies of information, these may not be as up-to-date as the digital copies that were lost. Data loss caused by corruption or viruses poses particular problems as the extent of data loss caused can sometimes be difficult to determine. It can be costly for your business to weed out and repair damaged files.

Data loss also sets back productivity timelines and can cause you to lose customers if it is accompanied by security breaches. When sensitive data is stolen or compromised, your company must disclose this to clients, causing you to lose their trust and respect. Even if your company can recover from the data loss, you will need to spend time rebuilding client relationships.

The inconvenience of data loss can have even bigger implications for your business when a large amount of data is lost:

  • 94 percent of companies that experience severe data loss do not recover
  • 51 percent of these companies close within two years of the data loss
  • 43 percent of these companies do not reopen again
  • 70 percent of small firms go out of business within a year of a large data loss incident

Leaving data unprotected is an expensive risk to take — According to a study by Gartner, the average cost of IT downtime is $5,600 per minute.

10 Common Causes of Data Loss

Data loss can be caused by many different factors, and each poses a unique problem for data recovery. Hard drive crashes account for the highest percentage of data loss, but human errors and issues with software follow closely behind. According to data from Kroll Ontrack:

  • 67 percent of data loss is caused by hard drive crashes or system failure
  • 14 percent of data loss is caused by human error
  • 10 percent of data loss is a result of software failure

Awareness of the types of data loss and the risks associated with losing data is essential for preventing data loss that can be a major cost to your business.

  1. Human Error
  2. Viruses & Malware
  3. Hard Drive Damage
  4. Power Outages
  5. Computer Theft
  6. Liquid Damage
  7. Disasters
  8. Software Corruption
  9. Hard Drive Formatting
  10. Hackers and Insiders
  1. Human Error

Humans are not infallible — we all make mistakes and sometimes they’re big ones. For businesses, these mistakes can result in the unintentional deletion of data files or sections of text. Without realizing it, employees can overwrite important files or delete information that is essential to your business. Human error can also play a role in many other main causes of data loss, including hard drive damage, liquid spills, software corruption and hard drive formatting.

One important measure to prevent human error in data handling is proper training. Ensure your employees understand how data processing within your company works and how your backup systems function. This can be as simple as knowing if the documents they are working with will be backed up automatically or if they must manually save files while they are working.

Mistakes from human error can also be minimized through several software means. Automation minimizes the amount of human interaction with data, which reduces the risk of deletion or overwriting. An optimized workflow will also leave little room for human error to occur while saving employees time and making mistakes easier to spot. Backup systems should also be used to preserve previous data states.

Recovering accidentally deleted or overwritten data can sometimes be as simple as searching through the computer’s Recycle Bin. Other times, you may be able to access previously saved versions of a document. When lost data is not as easy to retrieve, file recovery software can be a great tool. File recovery software scans your computer’s hard drive to identify and restore lost data.

2. Viruses and Malware

Most people think of viruses when you ask them what causes data losses. For businesses, viruses can steal and delete swaths of data or bring business operations to a crawl, destroying company functionality. A computer often gets a virus from an email-based attack or through phishing that tempts an employee to click on a corrupted link. This link then allows the virus or malware to enter the computer system to damage or steal files.

Guard against malware with appropriate anti-virus software. Keep your anti-virus systems constantly updated and regularly run scans to catch viruses before they can do any serious damage. Just in case a malicious program wrecks your data, be sure to make regular system backups as well. Often backed up data is the only way to recover lost data from malware or viruses.

3. Hard Drive Damage

The majority of data losses occur due to hardware malfunctions, with the primary perpetrator being the hard drive. Hard drives are the most fragile parts of computers, and around 140 thousand hard drives crash every week. Of these crashes, 60 percent are due to mechanical issues and 40 percent are a result of human misuse or mishandling, including dropping or jostling a computer or laptop. Hard drives can also be damaged if a computer overheats, typically caused by overuse or a build-up of dust in the computer.

However, as with any machine, a hard drive will wear out over time and will eventually stop working. Below are some signs to watch out for that indicate a hard drive may be failing:

  • The hard drive frequently crashes
  • The computer is unusually hot
  • The hard drive experiences issues while booting up
  • Processing speeds continually slow
  • The computer freezes frequently
  • The computer makes clicking or grinding noises
  • Files will not open or become corrupted randomly

To prevent hard drive malfunctions, be sure to work with your device appropriately and keep your computer away from excessive dust. You can also ensure that a random malfunction doesn’t destroy your data by regularly backing up your hard drive on an external drive or cloud server.

SSDs or solid state drives are also emerging as an alternative to traditional HDDs or hard disk drives. SSDs do not have any moving parts, so they are more durable for handling than HDDs. SSDs are also less likely to malfunction or crash, meaning you are less likely to lose data. However, computers with solid state drives also tend to be more expensive than those with standard hard drives and may not be financially feasible for every business. Taking preventative measures to protect your computer’s data is essential regardless of the type of hard drive it has.

You may be able to recover lost data from a hard drive damage by removing the hard drive from the computer and connecting it to another computer to see if any files are not damaged. If the hard drive is entirely corrupted, you can try to retrieve data using data recovery software. However, it is often best to contact a professional to help you recover data lost from a crashed hard drive.

4. Power Outages

Power outages can interrupt business operations substantially, shutting software systems down without warning. Not only can this result in the loss of unsaved data, but it can also cause existing files to be corrupted due to improper shutdown procedures. Sometimes, entire programs may be rendered non-functional by a poorly timed power outage. If a computer shuts down while it is writing to the hard drive system, it may never start up again.

Even if you do not lose data during a power outage, the improper shutdowns can have lasting impacts on computer hard drives. If power outages or surges happen frequently, the lifespan of a hard drive will be greatly reduced and it will be more likely to crash.

The best way to protect against these problems is by making regular, automatic system backups. Backups are often the only way to recover lost data from a power outage. Your business should also use surge protectors to help prevent possible damage from power surges. Having a generator or backup battery system can also allow you to save or back up business data during a power outage.

5. Computer or Laptop Theft

In the modern workplace, more and more people are becoming mobile. This often means they are working from laptops or smartphones rather than PCs. Laptop theft is a serious risk and can happen anywhere if a laptop is left unattended. According to a study by Kensington:

  • 25 percent of IT theft occurs in cars or other transportation vehicles
  • 23 percent takes place in the office
  • 15 percent happens in airports or hotels
  • 12 percent occurs in restaurants

On top of losing data, laptop theft also poses the threat of a data breach. In fact, stolen or lost devices accounted for over 40 percent of all data breaches from 2005 to 2015. If employees in your company store or access sensitive information on portable devices, you should have a means of remotely wiping data from those laptops or tablets. You should also ensure that crucial data stored on laptops is backed up to a safe location.

For computers in your office building, ensure that they are kept in locked rooms that only employees authorized to use them have access to. When closing your business overnight, be sure to have a secure lock-up procedure so that you do not invite thieves to steal computers or other valuables.

If your business uses laptops that contain valuable information, you should consider installing anti-theft software on these devices. This software allows you to track a laptop that has been stolen so that law enforcement may be able to retrieve the stolen device. Anti-theft software often includes the option of a remote wipe if there is valuable data stored on the laptop.

6. Liquid Damage

Spilling coffee or water on your laptop or computer can cause a short circuit, making it difficult to recover your computer, let alone the data stored inside. If your computer somehow gets completely submerged, the situation is even more serious. Sometimes a computer may seem to work fine after a spill, but the internal damage can have lasting effects that cause the computer to short circuit in the future. Acidic drinks, like coffee, pose a particular risk as they can corrode the inside of a computer if a spill is not cleaned up properly.

To minimize the chance of such damage, keep liquids away from business computers and try to keep laptops stored in water-resistant cases. Your company can also implement policies that require drinks to be kept in spill-proof containers or designate specific areas where employees can have beverages. Remind your employees how important it is to keep your equipment clean and safe from accidental damage.

If a spill does occur, act quickly to minimize the damage. Shut the computer off and dry it as much as you can. You should also take the computer apart with the help of a technician to be sure none of the internal components are wet. Allow all parts of the computer to dry completely before putting it back together or turning it on. Cleaning up a spill as soon as it happens can reduce the risk of damage and data loss. However, you should also back up all data on the device in case it short circuits down the road.

7. Disasters

From tornadoes to fire, disasters can happen when you least expect them and have devastating impacts on your business. They can destroy your computer, your data and even your business entirely. To minimize the effects of a disaster and ensure you can carry on, back up your data on a weekly basis and store files in a secure location.

Natural disasters can cause irreparable damage to a business if data is not backed up:

  • 93 percent of companies that lost their data center for 10 or more days from a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year
  • 50 percent of companies that lost data management due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy immediately
  • 30 percent of businesses that experience a severe fire go out of business within a year
  • 70 percent of businesses that experience a severe fire go out of business within five years

Because natural disasters can destroy a company’s technology entirely, it is often not possible to recover data lost due to a disaster. This is why it is so crucial to back up data in a remote location that cannot be compromised by a local disaster.

8. Software Corruption

Unexpected or improper software shutdowns may seem innocent on the surface but can cause serious issues for your data. Improper shutdowns can corrupt your data or delete your progress, wasting time and losing valuable data. When software is corrupted it may not be able to run again, meaning you cannot access data stored in that software.

While software corruption can sometimes be the result of power outages or other uncontrollable factors, it is important to implement procedures for properly shutting down software after each and every use. Be careful when powering down your computer and shut off any programs first. Use diagnostic programs carefully to ensure they don’t interrupt software processes. When your employees consistently save documents during editing and follow safe shut down procedures, they reduce the risk of business data loss from software corruption.

9. Hard Drive Formatting

Accidental formatting of your hard drive can cause you to lose data instantly. Employees can format a hard drive by accident if they misunderstand system prompts or error messages. Reformatting can also occur during system updates and result in data loss. While accidentally reformatting a hard drive can lead to panic when files and documents can no longer be accessed, you can often recover lost data from hard drive formatting by running a data recovery software.

10. Hackers and Insiders

In recent years, hacking and data breaches have become a much more common problem, making good cybersecurity measures essential. Unauthorized guests in your network can cause serious damage to your data, deleting and stealing any data they wish. They can even damage entire network processes if they have sufficient access to your system. Minimize the potential for such losses by using firewalls in your system to keep out hackers.

Hackers can gain access to your data in a variety of ways. Here are some things you should avoid so that your system is not vulnerable to hackers:

  • Using servers with poor security
  • Not having adequate firewalls
  • Using passwords that are easy to guess

The unfortunate truth is that data is sometimes stolen or compromised by employees themselves or other insiders. Consider implementing different levels of permission for employees to prevent insiders from accessing high-level data. Also, try to keep an eye open for signs of malicious activity.

In many instances, data stolen by hackers or insiders cannot be recovered. It is essential that you take action to prevent cyber attacks and back up your data frequently.

How to Prevent Data Loss

The most effective way to prevent business data loss is to back up all of your files and documents. Backing up data means that you have at least one additional copy of all important data. For the most effective backup plan, store your backups in a physically separate location to prevent the risk of data loss from physical destruction or theft.

Cloud storage is also an effective means of backing up data as it stores data remotely and is easily accessed from any device through the Internet. Cloud storage often has more space than a traditional server and does not pose risks of crashing. According to Small Business Trends, 78 percent of small businesses are projected to use cloud storage to back up their data by 2020. While cloud storage eliminates the possibility of theft or physical damage, data can still be lost in the cloud if it is accidentally deleted, overwritten or stolen by hackers.

No matter how you choose to back up your data, it is essential to make sure your data is backing up properly before a catastrophic data loss occurs. No one wants to realize after a data loss that files did not write correctly to the backup server and are corrupted. Perform periodic tests of backed up data to ensure your documents are properly formatted and there is enough space to store your files in your backup destination. Backups should be performed frequently so that minimal data is lost should your main system for data storage go down.

In addition to the ever-crucial backup, here are some other techniques to avoid business data loss:

  • Partition your hard drive: Partitioning a hard drive means creating separate program and data zones. This means that if the program portion of a hard drive crashes, you may be able to recover the data because it is stored in a separate location.
  • Perform disk defragmentation: The process of saving and deleting files naturally creates gaps on the hard drive that other files are then filled into. When data is split into segments for storage it takes longer for the computer to access the data and also makes file corruption more likely if the hard drive crashes. Defragmentation arranges files more contiguously to lower the risk of data loss and speed up computer processing time.
  • Use anti-virus software: Anti-virus software is essential to prevent viruses and malware from infecting your computer. Be sure to keep anti-virus software updated so it runs properly and effectively.
  • Keep your computer clean and dry: Dust or moisture collecting in a computer can cause the hard drive to crash or computer to overheat. Store all computers and laptops in dry, ventilated areas.
  • Keep computers in a safe location: Computers should be kept stationary and in a location where they are not likely to be jostled or damaged. Keeping your computers out of the way will also reduce the risk of theft.
  • Control employee access: All employees working with company data should be properly trained about confidentiality or how data can be shared. It is in the best interest of your company to control who can access different levels of data to protect from accidental or intentional data loss.

Contact New Era Technology to Learn More

Need help implementing systems to protect your data against losses and ensure your business’ continuity? New Era can help with experienced technicians who can design and implement the solutions you need. Our innovative services have helped more than two thousand companies improve their systems and we can do the same for your business.

Start your journey today — contact New Era today to learn more at solutions@neweratech.com.

Author: Joe Gillis, VP of Sales, GVC

Joe Gillis, a graduate of Loyola University, began his career with FTG Technologies, a New Era Technology company, in 2010 as an Account Executive. After proving his skills in team-building, client interaction, and developing strategic relationships, he was promoted to Sales Manager in 2012. Today, Joe continues to lead the sales team and serves as a member of the senior management team. When Joe isn’t leading the sales team he enjoys time with his young family and is an avid golfer. Prior to joining FTG, Joe worked for the PGA Tour within Tournament Operations.

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