No data storage system is perfect.

Data systems can fail. Natural disasters can wipe out storage facilities, malware can compromise files, and the 2021 Webroot Threat Report found that roughly half of all PCs are infected at some point. Any of these problems can mean lost profits, damage to reputation, or worse. According to IBM, the average total cost of data theft was 4.24 million USD throughout 17 different countries and regions, up from 3.86 million in 2020. Thankfully, with the right tools, you can do your part to protect your company’s digital assets.

Why preventing data loss is important.

Mitigating risk is essential for every business, and the consequences of losing important business files are no exception. They include:

  • Profit loss. Lost data often means new costs or lost money. That includes recovery costs and even employee severance pay, if negligence or human error played a part.
  • Reputation damage. A high-profile data breach can put your brand in the news for all the wrong reasons.
  • Productivity disruption. Your time is valuable, and lost business data could take days to weeks to restore.
  • Business failure. In the worst-case scenario, lost data could result in the closure of your business.

Common causes of business data loss.

Identifying the cause of your company’s data loss is the first step to recovering from it. Consider the following possible causes:

Malware and viruses.

Malware and viruses are a serious threat to businesses, governments, and people. These cybersecurity threats take many forms, including email scams. According to the University at Buffalo, spam emails citing student job offers are a recent version of this threat, but they can look like almost anything.

Businesses can face similar encounters with fake emails from people claiming to be “Jim from accounting” asking for a charitable donation. Or emails that spoof the look and feel of a trusted provider like Google, only to direct users to a fraudulent page that steals their information. This practice is known as phishing, and it happens in every organization.

To protect against lost or stolen data, organizations need to train their members to identify probable phishing scams, and never provide personal or professional information via suspicious emails. Instruct employees to report phishing attempts and not engage with them.

You can also protect against malware by making sure that you have a reputable email server that will warn you about suspicious attachments or links and that you have a reputable PDF reader that will protect against malware attached to PDFs. Check that you always have the latest updates for your software and your computer installed. Malware and viruses are constantly evolving, and your software is also updating to keep you safe. As a business, you may frequently open files from unknown senders. Make sure that you’re protected in case there are bad actors behind any of those files.

Administrators should institute a standard protocol for what to do with unknown or suspicious files and share it with their employees. If you think a file might contain a virus or other malware, it is best to immediately delete the file and notify your IT administrator.

Data theft.

Lax security can lead to stolen data. And where these attacks happen is evolving — mobile phones are the new target for data theft. Businesses that allow employees to hold information on their phones or other devices, whether company or personal, may be putting their data in jeopardy.

Since data theft could have ramifications for all of your clients and customers as well as for you, only keep the data you need. Then, take the time to encrypt identifying or sensitive data. Encrypting this data could keep it out of the wrong hands, even if you end up losing it. This password protection should be active whether the data is sitting in the cloud for storage or actively being used on a team member’s device.

Software upgrades and bugs.

Each upgrade is essential to keep up with the speed of business and can help ensure your protection from things like viruses. An upgrade does, however, have the potential for data loss. Older file formats might not be supported by newer versions of software. Troublesome new bugs are always potential problems with updates and improvements too.

Upload your files to a cloud or a hard drive for backup before an upgrade to mitigate issues that come from keeping your apps up to date. One efficient way to do this is to create a reliable automatic system for backup storage and double check that everything has been properly saved before an update.

Hardware failure and issues.

Older machines are at greater risk for data loss, but they’re not the only way hardware fails. Overheating is a common hazard for computers, and spilled cups of coffee can sometimes mean the loss of data on a given device. Computers can be fragile.

Administrators should instruct employees to immediately seek IT help if they notice any issues with their hardware. That way, problems can be addressed immediately instead of waiting until the device is beyond repair.

You will also need to regularly update your equipment, instead of relying on old hard drives. Having a backup system using a cloud can also prevent loss in the case of a hardware failure. Your cloud storage can be secure as long as your wireless internet connection is also secure.

Natural disasters and power outages.

Lightning strikes, fires, and floods can destroy both physical and digital infrastructure. Anything that can wipe out your office space can also wipe out your data. Disasters like this can be especially devastating for small businesses, which often don’t have preventing data loss or keeping important documents safe as a priority.

Store your backed-up info in multiple locations so earthquakes don’t cause seismic shifts to your revenue stream. Then make sure those backups are also stored in the cloud. To protect from flooding, you can install moisture sensors where you keep your hardware. In the event of a power outage, a backup generator can keep your business running.

Human error.

Mistakes are inevitable, and every business should take into consideration the cost of human error. As always, make sure you have backups for your files. Many cloud storage systems will automatically create backups for your files as you create them. Don’t risk losing a whole quarter’s worth of data because someone clicked the wrong button.

Another way to prevent these inevitable mistakes from hurting your business is to keep data accessible only to the people who need to use it. That way, someone who isn’t trained to be careful with important data can’t accidentally delete a whole lot of it.

In all of these instances, the key is to make your storage systems robust enough that a single bad event can’t wipe them out. It’s impossible to predict whether a natural disaster, cyber attack, or unforeseen bug will compromise your data. But it’s reasonable to say that at some point something will. Be ready when it happens, so if you do lose data, you don’t lose it all, and you can bounce back quickly.

Business colleagues reviewing business data together

How to prevent digital data loss.

Regular data backups, heightened security systems, and properly formatted documents can make all the difference for enhanced data integrity.

Back up your data regularly.

Saving multiple copies of your data should be a regular part of your business’s routine. There are many ways to do this:

  • External hard drives. Storing data on an external hard drive is a basic, inexpensive, and easy way to back up data. However, external devices need to be backed up manually, and can be lost or damaged easily. External hard drives become more vulnerable to damage as they age, so you will need a plan for replacing your hard drives in the future.
  • Cloud solutions. Cloud backups are a viable solution for any size business. Many vendors offer Backup as a Service (BaaS) solutions, which allow you to seamlessly store your data on either a public or private cloud. These cloud solutions can automatically store backups of your files as you create or download them. When your data is on the cloud, it is readily available for you to use in the event of a disaster.
  • Proprietary solutions. Proprietary hardware and software solutions are also available for backing up small and large amounts of data. These solutions are best for businesses that wish to back up only certain systems or data, or wish to have greater management of the backup process.

Use only trusted software.

Make sure all of your applications are vetted, safe, and secure. It’s easy to mistake malware or spyware for a legitimate software solution. Use applications and browser extensions only from known, trusted parties. If you aren’t completely sure whether an application is safe, take some time to look at it critically and perform a search on it. Only install software that you know is safe. If you suspect something might be off, look for a more trusted alternative.

Certain computer systems and email servers have embedded technologies designed to ensure that only trusted software applications run on your device, such as the macOS Gatekeeper. Keeping your software updated will help ensure that these embedded protections remain effective against the latest viruses and malware.

Increase data security.

Your business must know what data to protect, who should have access to it, and what kind of protections each file will have. Real-time analytics are a useful tool to track data breaches when they happen, and a robust and clear security plan is essential for detecting and preventing data security threats.

It’s also important to have a plan for bouncing back from data loss or security breaches. The longer your data is inaccessible to you, the less likely you are to recover. Having a plan can help things go smoothly even after they’ve gone wrong.

Use the right file types.

File types and format matter for data security. Password protect PDFs to prevent the inability to edit them without an external tool. When you share a PDF, you can restrict it for reading only or password protect the ability to edit it.

Converting an Excel, Word, or PowerPoint to PDF can help avoid accidental or intentional document tampering, plus it can cut down on file size so you can save even more secure files. Document management tools can compress PDF files for even easier storage. PDFs are also less likely to lose data with updates, since their formatting is known for staying stable and printable, no matter the device or software they are viewed on.

Keep files in several places.

Diversify where you store your business files. The more locations you keep files, the more opportunities you have to recover lost data. If one of those locations is ever compromised, be it hard copies or cloud services, you’ll be glad you have backups. You need a strategy for data and document storage and recovery. The last thing a business wants is to lose critical data.

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