Conspiracy theories: why is data actually being lost?

08 November 2016 by Milagros Gamero

As is now tradition, it is that time of the year again to share the findings of our latest iteration of the Data Loss Index (DLI). As has consistently been the case in time and space, the index shows that undetectable drives were the leading cause of data loss and accounted for nearly a third (29%) of all instances of data loss.

On this occasion though, I’d like to dig a little deeper and share some baffling results. For some, I have my own theories on why they happened – but for others, my guess is as good as yours. I invite you to read through this post, check out the stats yourself and share your own theories in the comments section. We know the truth is out there after all.

The undetected

Undetected media continues to be the top cause of data loss but there is more to this than meets the eye. In data loss terms undetected is an umbrella term that covers a myriad of possibilities: electronic failures, problems with the operating system, deleted data, mechanical failures or even corruption.

Now that we know a little more about what is really going on it becomes clear that undetectable is really a generic indicator for which further investigation and, frankly, expertise is required to be accurately diagnosed.

The drop

Though we do not have a discernible drop in the number of data loss cases to report, gravity does seem to have a direct effect on our external storage media. As we are always on the move, for good or for bad so are our devices.

Due to their very mobile nature they are constantly subjected to the rigours of life, more so than other types of storage devices. Therefore it’s not surprising that ‘dropped the device’ happens to be amongst the top 3 causes of data loss for external drives.

The splash

As we all know, electronics and liquids are a dangerous combination. This may not come as a surprise to you, but no other storage devices registered anywhere near the same number of incidents as mobiles did, for data loss due to liquid.

Liquid damage is perhaps not something which is front of mind when we consider data loss but it was the most recorded reason for failure in the DLI last quarter with 18% of incidents for mobile devices.

Think about it:  now that the summer months are just finishing, how many mobile devices may have recently had an unexpected dip in the swimming pool or gone for a paddle in the sea?

The noise

From the most mobile of devices to the least - the DLI also took a look at issues with servers and found that ‘noise’ was the second highest reason sighted for data loss (undetectable was the top incidence in this category as well).

Noise is actually a symptom that physical damage has occurred, which when you think about it is unusual for this type of device where mobility is kept to a minimum. Can you guess how or why physical damage is so frequently happening to servers?

No matter what type of data loss has occurred, it is important that the servers be analysed by specialists to preserve the critical data.

The person

We don’t often admit it but we sometimes need to take responsibility for when things go wrong and data loss is no exception.

This was picked up by the DLI and was uniquely disguised as ‘deleted files’.  What is interesting though is that we seem to be far more likely to delete files from a flash drive than from any other device. 14% of data loss incidents recorded with flash were attributed to deleted files, three times more often than with any other storage device! Are we perhaps more likely to delete files from flash drives because normally this type of data is backed up on a computer? If you have your own theories of why this may be, please do share them in the comments section. I’m definitely intrigued.

The OS

Another interesting result we saw is that laptops seem to experience OS issues much more often than any other device type. Though the DLI doesn’t provide us with details as to why this happens, we can always speculate on why 15% of the data loss cases for laptops are related to OS malfunctions. Got a conspiracy theory on why this may happen? Please share it in the comment section.

The damage

According to the results of the DLI, it appears backup tapes are equally affected by human error (13% deleted files… oops!) as from physical damage (13% as well).

Now the latter of these causes I find very interesting as we can only hazard a guess as to how the archive tapes are getting damaged. Is it due to the storage conditions? Or are they perhaps undergoing some damage whilst in transit, being taken from the business site to the storage centre? So many things can go wrong along the way and many times, we may not even realise the data has gone missing until we one day need it back - urgently.

What to do if you’ve lost data

  • Don’t panic. Often data is still recoverable even when you may think it is no longer the case
  • Don’t try to restore the data yourself. Attempts to retrieve data by those unqualified to do so can turn a situation where data could have been recovered into a hopeless outcome
  • Do seek professional help immediately. The most likely chance of data retrieval is if you get data recovery experts involved straightaway