What Is Data Loss?

Data loss occurs when valuable or sensitive information on a computer is compromised due to theft, human error, viruses, malware, or power failure. It may also occur due to physical damage or mechanical failure or equipment of an edifice.

The biggest reasons for data loss include laptop theft, accidental deletion or overwriting of files, power outages and surges, spilled liquids, and the wearing out or sudden failure of hard drives. Regularly backing up files makes data recovery possible in the event of data loss. For data that hasn’t been backed up, professional recovery services might be able to restore lost data.

Servers can also suffer from data loss, just like individual computers and devices can.

Key Takeaways

  • Data loss is the destruction of important or private information that has been stored on a computer or network.
  • Data loss can be caused by external factors, such as a power outage, theft, or a broad-based phishing attack. 
  • Data loss can be caused by human error, such as when a person opens an email that has a virus attached, or when antivirus software has expired, or when a person drops a computer or spills liquid on it.
  • Companies can protect themselves by using data loss prevention procedures in software and by having protocols in place for employees that enable them to safely work with and share business documents.
  • Individuals can protect themselves by having up-to-date virus and malware protection, and by avoiding opening unfamiliar emails.

Understanding Data Loss

Social engineering and phishing attacks are common sources of computer viruses and malware infections that infiltrate computers and lead to data loss. The attackers can also encrypt data and hold it hostage until the user pays a ransom to obtain the decryption key. Keeping antivirus software up to date helps protect against software vulnerabilities, but phishing and social engineering attacks may not be preventable by anti-virus software.

Therefore, a good defense is to educate people about the nature of these attacks so they are less likely to become victims. For example, exercising caution in clicking on email links and downloading attachments can help to prevent data loss.

Data Loss: Common Causes

Power surges and outages hurt computers by causing operating systems to shut down suddenly without following the proper procedures. The file corruption that can result can make it impossible to reboot the computer. Liquid spills onto laptop keyboards can seep into the casing and damage the internal components, especially in the case of acidic or sugary drinks, so it’s a good idea to keep liquids away from laptops or use a spill-proof travel mug.

Hard drives have moving parts that can experience a mechanical failure due to wearing out, overheating, electrostatic discharge, or being dropped. They can also fail due to file corruption, improper drive formatting, or software corruption. Hard drives may fail and experience data loss suddenly, or they may show signs of slowly failing, such as crashing repeatedly, becoming increasingly slow, or making unusual noises.

Creating regular data backups of hard drive data helps protect against this form of data loss. For example, an individual might back up their personal files from a desktop computer to both an external hard drive and the cloud. Having the data stored in three places that face different risks minimizes the risk of total data loss.

Data Loss: The Human Element

A major threat of data loss for businesses comes from employees who aren’t aware of the risks they are taking. Companies need a way to control how their data is shared by monitoring and protecting business documents whenever and wherever employees are using, storing, or transmitting them, whether in email attachments, via smartphone, on laptops, on flash drives, or in cloud storage, to protect against data loss.

Preventing data loss is important for companies to protect their privacy and intellectual property as well as comply with government regulations. Organizations can employ data loss prevention (DLP) features in software from providers like Google and Microsoft to protect against data loss. There are also data loss prevention suites from providers such as Clearswift, Symantec, Digital Guardian, Forcepoint, and McAfee, among others.