Data Loss

When data is destroyed, deleted, corrupted, or made unreadable by users and software applications

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What is Data Loss?

Data loss is an incident where data is destroyed, deleted, corrupted, or made unreadable by users and software applications. A data loss incident can be intentional or accidental.

Data loss results in some or all of the data elements becoming unusable by the owner or its corresponding software application. Data can become lost either in storage, transmission, processing, or within a network. The theft or loss of a device containing data is considered part of data loss.

Data Loss


  • Data loss happens when data is destroyed, corrupted, or made unreadable by software applications and users. It can be accidental or intentional.
  • Human error is seen as the primary cause of most data loss in business. Other causes include hardware theft, software corruption, computer viruses, hardware impairment, natural disasters, and power failure.
  • A good backup system is considered the most efficient solution to data loss, as it increases the chances of data recovery.

Common Causes of Data Loss

The major causes of data loss are outlined below:

1. Human error

Human error is the root cause of most data loss in business as humans are, by nature, not perfect. The day-to-day running of a business involves a lot of data manipulation through typing, editing, updating, and deletions, processes that are prone to error by users. The frequent and heavy usage of data results in the following human errors:

  • Accidental deletion of data files: Usually a mistake on the user’s part where a file or folder is unintentionally deleted without a backup available. It occurs due to a lack of concentration or a moment of confusion on the part of a user.

Files deleted accidentally can be irrecoverable if there is no backup. Therefore, it is paramount to put in place proper workflow procedures that include regular saving of work and strategies for systematic data backup.

  • Spillage of liquids: Spillage of coffee or drink on a laptop is a common accident that results in data loss. Liquids usually spill on the keyboard and soak into the internal parts of the laptop. Liquids can cause a short circuit, which can affect the electronic parts of a computer, including the hard drive.

A damaged hard drive can easily become corruptible and inaccessible, preventing access to all of the data. The harm is lesser if the incident occurs when a laptop is switched off. A closely related accident is dropping a data media device in the water, which leads to complete immersion, impairment of the machine, and almost certain data loss.

2. Theft

Losing data through theft usually happens when a data storage device such as a laptop is stolen. Laptops are stolen at an alarming rate, meaning data loss through theft can be quite high. Laptops are mobile and are usually taken out of secure company premises, increasing vulnerability to theft.

Generally, the data in a laptop can be much more valuable than the laptop device itself, such that the cost of replacing the laptops is not high compared to the cost of replacing the stolen data. However, if data is encrypted, data may be stolen but not accessed.  Furthermore, data can also get stolen digitally through hacking and malware.

3. Software corruption

Software malfunction or crash is another major cause of data loss. Any application used for requesting data can crash, resulting in data loss or corruption. Software failure can also occur in file editing software when updating multiple files where some files fail to save or update and are subsequently deleted. Data can also become lost in the same way during backup.

Common errors in backup include failure of the system to create file copies and inability to stop automatic deletion of files. Antivirus software can also delete data if it inaccurately reads it as malware. Errors can also occur during the conversion of file formats leading to data corruption and loss.

4. Computer viruses

Computer viruses can infiltrate and damage data stored in hard drives and company network systems. Viruses can steal, corrupt, encrypt or delete important data. They can also infiltrate an entire organization’s network system and affect the functioning of computer hardware.

Computer viruses typically include malware, such as ransomware. Ransomware threatens to block access to the data or publicly expose it if a ransom is not paid. Email attacks through phishing can steal and damage data leading to data loss and functionality. A capable antivirus software that is up to date is a quick solution to computer viruses.

5. Hardware impairment

Hardware containing or maintaining data can easily malfunction, leading to irretrievable data loss. The reasons for hardware impairment can be internal or external. Data storage devices such as hard drives are prone to destruction through physical or mechanical faults. The faults can be a result of misuse or mishandling of the devices.

Hard drives are prone to damage through overheating, water and fire, power failure, human mishandling, or improper connection. Also, hardware can malfunction due to firmware corruption, read/write head failure, and corruption of bad sectors. The devices can also fail or become ineffective due to the passage of time or gradual aging of all or some of their components.

6. Natural disasters

Natural disasters assume a lower prevalence rate as a cause of data loss because of their rare occurrence. Natural disasters that can lead to data loss include floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, cyclones, natural fires, and lightning.

7. Power failure

An interruption in the power supply or an electrical outage while a user is preparing a document could result in a loss of data if it were not systematically saved. Auto recovery operations can successfully retrieve the saved part of the data only.

Sudden power failures can also damage the hardware and operating system resulting in data loss. Computers can develop rebooting problems, resulting in the inability to access data. Sudden voltage changes (normally increased voltage) can damage computer hardware and lead to data loss.

Implications of Data Loss

It can be expensive to prevent data loss in terms of resources, training, and investigating. The cost is worth it, as the implications of experiencing a data loss event can be catastrophic. Below are some of the costs and consequences of data loss to organizations:

1. Business functions can be destroyed

Data is the backbone of the business, making day-to-day operations seamless. Data loss can affect the functionality of an entity or certain parts of it due to bottlenecks and resource allocation. Time and resources will have to be diverted to address the data loss incident in terms of recovery leading to serious operational challenges.

2. Damaged business reputation

The reputation of a business may suffer due to data loss. It is essential to communicate a data loss incident to customers, but it can inadvertently result in a lack of trust and discontentment. It can subsequently lead to other customers taking their business elsewhere.

Discontent from customers is magnified if the lost data includes customer data. Business reputation is compromised due to customer perception of unreliability and negligence on the part of the company. The mass exodus of clients is a potential risk that can shut the business down. Rebuilding scarred relationships with clients will require significant time and resources as the data loss can haunt the business for years to come.

3. Financial implications

Data supports the operations of the business, and if lost, it means the company loses not only its ability to make money but also the means to operate. Since financial resources are also channeled towards data recovery, business finances can be stretched to the point of eating into unbudgeted funds and drawing down reserves. Data loss comes with the potential to bankrupt a business.

4. Effects on productivity

The productivity of employees is severely affected as data used in day-to-day work is lost. Also, data is needed to make decisions, and the decision-making function is also curtailed due to data loss.

5. Legal consequences

Data loss exposes a business to various legal actions and lawsuits. The loss of customer data carries potential fines from the regulator for not adhering to data protection laws and regulations. Customers can also file lawsuits against a business in the event of loss of customer data. All these legal actions can affect the overall recovery of a business from a data loss event.

How to Prevent Data Loss?

There are various ways to prevent data loss, including several common strategies for individuals and corporates. A Data Loss Prevention (DLP) strategy can also be put in place as a plan to manage data loss events. Below are several strategies that can be implemented.

1. Backup

Backing up data is the foremost data prevention strategy that every user should adopt. It means maintaining at least one copy of your data on a separate medium, such as the cloud, offshore server, or an external hard drive. Ongoing checks to see if the data is not corrupted or accessible to unauthorized persons should be performed. Office 365 and G-Suite are excellent cloud computing applications for data backup.

2. Firewalls and antivirus

Installation of a firewall and antivirus software is essential to protect and prevent malicious threats from accessing sensitive data. The two measures act as defenders from malicious software such as malware and other computer viruses that can breach company data. However, firewalls and antivirus should be tailored to the organizational level of threat and its security requirements. Also, the two should be constantly updated.

3. UPS for power failure prevention

Installing an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) can prevent data loss in the event of power surges and power outages. It allows proper saving of documents and closing of the application system without the risk of data loss.

4. Data loss prevention strategy

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) are tools and processes used to prevent data loss, misuse, or unauthorized access. DLP software defines the data priority categories from critical and sensitive to general low-risk data. It also spells out the data policy and violations and is guided by data security regulations and guidelines.

DLP also sets out protective measures, such as encryption, and monitoring, and controlling endpoint activities. It also provides audit and reporting guidelines to identify weaknesses in data security and data security violations, respectively. Microsoft Office 365 Data Loss Prevention and McAfee Total Protection for Data Loss Prevention are notable plans for DLP.

5. Disaster recovery plan

Organizations can also set up a Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) if a data loss event occurs. A DRP sets out the procedures to be undertaken in the event of an occurrence, which can minimize the damage and increase recovery prospects of lost data.

6. Other preventive measures

Other measures include keeping laptops and other data devices in a dry and dust-free environment to prevent overheating and the effects of humid conditions of electronic devices. Defining access levels to different types of data for different employees also ensures that certain employees are not able to access information that they do not need to know about. A business can also use RAID storage and a journaling file system to protect data against software and hardware failure.

Data Recovery

The most efficient solution to data loss is a good data backup system, as it increases the chances of data recovery. Data recovery is mostly performed by specialized companies who examine hardware storage for recovery of deleted data and also attempt to restore corrupted data through specialized processes. They manage data labs to conduct such specialized work. Recovery is dependent on the type of storage medium, security, and an effective backup system.

Learn More

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