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Businesses spend a lot of time worrying about risk. With the rash of ransomware attacks and cybersecurity threats over the past year, cyber security threats surely top the list.
Yet, the biggest threat to data loss in businesses is employees themselves. Despite the non-stop cyber threats and an increasingly complex IT landscape, simple accidental data deletion is still the most common reason for data loss. Users make mistakes. They have bad habits. And sometimes job stress and haste cause people to take shortcuts, which end up in personal, everyday disasters. This can cause havoc to the MSP managing a business’ data.
In this blog, we will explore the five most common causes of accidental data loss.
1. Simple, Human Error
First and foremost, people accidentally delete data all the time. Most operating systems leverage a two-step process to delete data from a system, with the Recycle Bin providing the user with a vital safeguard against hasty deletion. Nevertheless, users delete data only to discover that vital files have been destroyed and lost forever.
While it seems our technology world should be becoming easier and less complex, it is the opposite. In a given day, the typical knowledge worker may work across multiple computers, tablets, and mobile devices. Add in remote desktop technology and extra cyber security measures, and the world gets complicated quickly. The profusion of devices means work happens in more places, across more devices, and more cloud-based apps. Theoretically, our multi-device world should make data loss less likely. Yet, cracks always emerge. Employees circumvent their pokey remote desktop connections; save data locally to the desktop; move corporate data to personal devices; and the list goes on.
Many also work in organizations where the internal tech support is overwhelmed. Therefore, people turn to self-help solutions and try to consolidate or delete data to conserve disk space and stay productive. Users may tamper with storage limits, use CHKDSK tools, or try optimizing their operating system, leading to data corruption, erasure, or operating system issues and data loss.
Even more commonly, employees may simply overwrite their work. When working in a spreadsheet or presentation, this commonly happens. Without the right versioning, file sync solutions, or backup tools in place, people can really shoot themselves in the foot.
2. Data Sprawl
Data sprawl is another large problem. It is very common for organizations to have standard and approved locations where employees should save files, such as on the corporate file server, shared and personal drives in collaboration/productivity tools such as Microsoft 365 or cloud solutions like Dropbox. The official file locations of the corporation will nearly always be properly backed up.
The problem emerges when you add in user behavior. Employees will often save their work in progress to non-approved locations, such as to the desktop, another local hard drive, or even to a personal device. Saving data to non-approved locations is not just a cyber security and data governance problem. If the employee accidentally deletes or overwrites data on a system with inadequate protection, the data may be lost forever.
3. Mobile, an Achilles’ heel?
Mobile devices are another area of concern. More and more, personal mobile devices such as smartphones are vital, on-the-job tools. In many industries, such as trades, construction, or real estate, field-based employees often leverage their mobile devices to take photos, capture orders or client signatures, and so on.
It is vital that company work product on mobile devices is immediately synced or backed up to a cloud location. The challenge is, mobile devices can be both personal devices and work devices, creating data governance challenges. Moreover, mobile devices are prone to loss, theft, or accidental destruction. If corporate data has not been properly backed up from a mobile device, it can be lost forever.
4. Equipment Loss or theft
As we have explored above, today more work happens across a diversity of devices. Obviously, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices can be lost or stolen. A recent study done by Kensington Computer Product Group shows some eye-opening statistics:
- One laptop is stolen every 53 seconds.
- 70 million smartphones are lost each year, with only 7 percent recovered.
- 4.3 percent of company-issued smartphones are lost or stolen every year.
- 80 percent of the cost of a lost laptop is from a data breach.
- 52 percent of devices are stolen from the office/workplace, and 24 percent from conferences.
If employees have saved corporate data to unapproved locations, such as the desktop of a laptop computer, the data may be lost forever. The same goes for smart phones.
5. Employee Turnover and Administrative Errors
The last area we will address is data loss due to administrative errors and employee turnover. No matter the size of the organization, the velocity of employee turnover has only accelerated in the past decade. As we have already noted, employees now create corporate work content across a wide range of devices and software tools.
When employees depart, organizations need to worry not just about data privacy and cyber security issues, but corporate data preservation and governance as well. With the explosion in the use of SaaS apps, this is no small challenge. Offboarding employees efficiently and securely is only half the battle. The other half is the effective preservation of employee work product and intellectual property. This content needs to be transitioned to managers and colleagues, while also being properly stored or archived.
Even if a company is extremely well organized and all employee data and content is saved in the proper location, inventoried, and identified in the short term, mistakes can still be made. For example, corporate email systems and file collaboration platforms like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace will contain tons of company data and information that may need special preservation. When SaaS accounts are terminated or closed, the data will be gone forever in a few months, unless it is either transferred, archived, or otherwise retained. If companies are sloppy, account closures can easily become another major cause of data loss.
In many industries, companies may need to retain employee email communications and work product for many years based on compliance requirements. Moreover, companies should retain employee communications for a specified period, especially if the employee data or communications are needed in legal proceedings or investigations. Premature data destruction related to employee departures may be viewed as data spoliation by the courts, leading to civil or criminal penalties. This is a very complicated area of law and human resource management. Suffice it to say, with today’s complex SaaS ecosystem, employee departures and the related data governance issues need detailed and expert management.