How Small Businesses Can Lose Data in 5 Easy Steps

James O'Brien

Sure, small-business data is compromised all the time, and all too often, via vulnerabilities in networks or employees’ laptops, tablets, and smartphones — not to mention other, more insidious breach points — but what about the kind of data loss that comes from simple human error?

In addition to the higher-profile threats of hackers and cyber-thieves, business owners also have to look out for a plethora of easy-to-make mistakes that can allow sensitive company and customer information to slip through the cracks, get lost, or land in the wrong hands.

Let’s consider some of the more “lo-fi” data-loss horror stories that have come up — and break out some tips to help avoid them at your shop.

1. Failing to verify backups. Simply pressing the back-up button isn’t enough. Owners and IT managers need to periodically click through to the actual drives and servers, making sure that the data supposedly saved is actually in the system and intact. “I have seen clients lose data after months or years of not getting good backups,” said Oli Thordarson, president and CEO of Alvaka Networks, interviewing by e-mail. “No one was checking the back-up system error logs, so they did not know it was not working.” It’s not just about back-up failure, either. Make certain your workers are actually backing up all relevant drives, not just the C drive on their computer.

2. Exposing your company to the disgruntled. “I had a client who terminated the IT manager in the morning and told him to gather up his stuff and be out by noon,” Thordarson said. “They did not monitor his activity. He went into the server room, systematically deleted all of the tapes, and then he went on to systematically delete all the contents of the servers. He then grabbed his personal items and left.” Needless to say, the impact was enormous. So, walk the recently let-go employee through their final steps, in person, and then walk them out the door.

3. Tossing out documents without protocols. Don’t leave thrown-away sensitive papers to chance. Alex Muentz, an information-security attorney in Philadelphia, told a story, via e-mail, of a client trying to destroy documents containing personally-identifiable info by stuffing them into the furnace at his residential apartment building. Problem was, it was a mild winter and the box just sat there until a building technician later found it. Engage with a proper document-destruction service; don’t leave your data to chance.

4. Using a copier that saves everything it copies. When it’s time to move on to another digital photocopying machine, be careful to check that yours hasn’t kept a record of everything it’s scanned. If it’s configured to do so, you want to clear its memory or the next person down the line might just download a ton of critical details about your business and clients.

5. Resetting as a nuclear option. Here’s a way to horrify yourself, when it comes to easy data loss. Perhaps the idea of resetting your computer doesn’t prompt the idea of complete personal-file deletion, but when it does, it’s probably because you’re using Windows 8. The reset option in the operating system’s latest iteration wipes the slate clean. Really, really clean. If you want to restore your system to a fresh state, but protect your business data on that computer in the process, use Windows 8’s refresh option — and do not reset.

It’s hard to account for simple human error, and chances are it’ll be a factor in your company’s data lifecycle at some point.

In the preceding cases, however, you can tip the odds back in your favor. Take the time to institute policies and protections against these kinds of mishaps. It’s bad enough out there, when it comes to data-loss threats, but you can work to control the simple stuff around the office.


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