The Most Disastrous Data Loss Incidents

In a world where knowledge is power, loss of critical business and client data can bring an entire company to its knees. Here are some of the most catastrophic data losses and breaches of the past few years – and more importantly, how you can prevent a similar problem occurring in your business.

The biggest causes of data loss aren’t what you might expect. While securing private information against hackers might be the first thing that comes to mind, good old fashioned human error is still the biggest cause, closely followed by hardware failure. Whether information is stored on physical hardware, in a cloud storage facility or even printed out and stashed in filing cabinets, it’s vulnerable to humans being human, and stuff breaking.

Server failure hits Microsoft Sidekick, 2009

This disaster, which caused the loss of some 800,000 Sidekick user’s personal information, including calendar events, photos and contacts, was all caused by a combination of hardware failure and human error. When Microsoft acquired the data center from Sidekick, they failed to notice that it hadn’t been properly updated to run all their software. After prolonged service disruptions, the system eventually failed entirely. Luckily they did actually manage to recover most of the user’s data in the end, but it was a big scare for the relatively new cloud storage industry.

Collapse of Ma.Gnolia

Few stories offer such a dire warning as that of social bookmarking site Ma.Gnolia, where an entire company was brought down for good due to massive data loss. A pioneer in the social bookmarking sphere, the company was all set to become a massive success and was steadily growing a devoted fan base. And then, in 2009, their servers suffered a complete outage – one that was to spell the end for the company. Data corruption meant that their on-site backup was unusable, and none of their user’s data could be restored. The information was gone for good, and sadly, so was Ma.Gnolia.

How bad could the loss of one USB drive be? Ask the British Home Office!

When it comes to private information, there can be few things more sensitive than the records of prison inmates. Yet in 2008, the British Home Office suffered the loss of data on over 84,000 English and Welsh prisoners. The reason seems almost absurd – one of the institution’s employees managed to download all of this data onto a thumb drive, of all things. And as anyone who’s owned one of these devices can attest, it has to be the easiest of all storage devices to misplace – which is, of course, exactly what happened. The information included names, addresses and dates of birth, info on prolific or priority offenders and even expected release dates. This story is a good reminder that aside from excellent data backup and recovery policies, securing your system against unauthorized access from within also needs to be considered!

And this wasn’t even the first time the UK Government had lost data due to losing hardware. The previous year they suffered the loss of 25 million personal records, including bank account and insurance numbers as well as information on all the families in the UK receiving child benefits. How? An unencrypted data disk that got lost in the post. Luckily, it seems they’ve learnt a valuable lesson.

National Archive and Records loses 76 million social security numbers

NARA, which is the department responsible for record keeping for the US military, got into hot water when they sent a hard drive in for repair. Unfortunately, they failed to erase the personal information of 76 million military personnel before they did so. The compromised data included Secret Service and White House operations procedures, and was said to be the single biggest breach of personal data by the US government of all time.

Lessons learnt:

There are so many ways in which data loss can occur, so it only makes sense to have a multipronged approach in how you keep it safe too. All the backups and fail safes in the world mean little when your employees haven’t been trained correctly in how to use them, for example. Making sure you have on-site and off-site backups is another no brainer, as is partnering with a trusted data recovery expert for when things do go wrong. Whether it’s human error, a hardware failure, cyber-attack or even natural disaster, the better prepared you are to deal with potentially compromised data, the better the chances that you’ll be able to keep doing business as usual.