Top 4 Causes of Data Loss and How to Combat Them

August 14, 2018

6 min read

Tracy Rock

Director of Marketing @ Invenio IT
data loss

Top 4 Causes of Data Loss and How to Combat Them

by | Aug 14, 2018

What are the most common causes of data loss today?

At a time when data loss costs small businesses as much as $75 billion a year in downtime alone, it’s never been more important to protect your data. But you can’t obtain true protection without first understanding the threats.

Roughly 1 out of 5 businesses experiences more than 22 data-loss incidents every year, according to a report highlighted by PC World. The reasons are numerous: data goes missing, gets destroyed and even gets stolen.

In this post, we uncover the top dangers that threaten your data (and your entire business).

1) Human error

Oops! Jim from Accounting just deleted that important spreadsheet again.

Sally from Marketing accidentally dragged a folder into trash.

Bob from HR suddenly has no emails—he’s not sure why.

You get the idea.

Ask any IT person what the common cause of data loss is at their company, and they’ll tell you the same thing: human error. At larger organizations, data is accidentally deleted on a nearly daily basis. Sometimes employees are immediately aware of their mistakes; sometimes they don’t realize it until days or weeks later. In either case, that data is often gone forever unless you have a dependable backup system in place.

Roughly 75% of data loss is caused by human error, according to the IT Policy Compliance Group.

Keep in mind, data loss can also be caused by misconfigured servers and other infrastructure mismanagement. So it’s not just the non-IT workers you need to worry about.

We’re all human, after all. Mistakes are bound to happen. Regardless, it’s your job to make sure your data is protected.

How to combat it:

  • For faster recoveries, with fewer hiccups, choose a data backup system that allows you to quickly recover individual files and folders, in addition to larger datasets from a recovery point.
  • Smart backup software can help to identify lost data. Datto’s BDR solutions, for example, feature a web-based interface called Backup Insights, which makes it easy to quickly identify files that have been modified, created, or deleted between any two backups. Files can be rapidly recovered even when the file names and the deletion dates are unknown.
  • Limit user access to only the files and folders they need. This can reduce the risk of accidental deletion in unauthorized folders. Plus, it can limit the spread of malware across a network, as we discuss further below.

2) Natural disasters

Natural disasters have always been a risk for businesses, but a changing climate could make things a lot worse in the years ahead.

Consider this …

  • Four of the worst California wildfires in history occurred within the last six years.
  • Four of the most extreme hurricane seasons in U.S. history have occurred within the last 15 years.
  • Tornadoes, which once rarely occurred outside the Midwest, are increasingly occurring on the East Coast, hitting places like New York City and Massachusetts.
  • Rising global temperatures will not only cause more intense heat waves, but also more extreme snowstorms in certain parts of the U.S., due to a weaker, less stable jet stream, researchers say.

But let’s take climate change out of the picture for a minute. Even then, natural disasters remain one of the top causes of data loss for businesses. Fire and flooding are especially common at office buildings around the world.

40 to 60% of small businesses never reopen their doors after a disaster, according to FEMA – so the stakes are high.

Natural disasters clearly pose a safety risk to your staff and your office structures. But also, they pose a major risk to IT infrastructure. If your server room is flooded or destroyed by fire, your business-critical data could be destroyed. And when you have no other backups available, your business could be literally dead in the water.

How to combat it:

  • Make sure your data is backed up to the cloud, in addition to your on-site systems. This ensures that your data can be always be recovered, even if your on-site backups can’t.
  • Protect your on-site infrastructure with the latest fire suppression and flood prevention Even flood sensors, which alert you to the presence of water in your server room, can greatly reduce the impact of a flooding event.
  • Limit downtime even further by deploying a BDR platform that lets you virtualize your data in the cloud. Datto’s Instant Virtualization capabilities, for example, let you boot your backup as a virtual machine in seconds, from anywhere. This gives you the quickest access to your data, as well as the applications that run your business, even if your on-site infrastructure has been destroyed.
  • Sometimes a mere power outage can cause a lack of access to data and costly downtime. You can defend against this common scenario by installing backup generators on the premises.

You’ll never be able to stop Mother Nature. But with the right preparation, you can ensure your data survives even the worst natural disasters.

3) Hardware damage and system malfunctions

When technology breaks, your data is put at risk.

Hardware damage and system malfunction are among the top causes of data loss. It happens every day at businesses of all sizes, all over the globe. At best, your tech fails and the data in transit is lost forever. At worst, entire drives of data stop working or are wiped out by a software bug.

There are numerous kinds of IT malfunction that can cause trouble for your data. Here are just a few:

  • Hard drive failure
  • Operating system crashes
  • Software errors and crashes
  • Network hardware failure
  • Physical damage to hardware

Let’s focus on the hard drive failure for a minute. After all, your hard drives are where your data lives. So when the drive fails, your critical files can be corrupted and unrecoverable.

The problem is: all hard drives have a shelf life. They all fail eventually. Like all mechanical parts, the spinning disks and moving parts inside a traditional hard-drive eventually slow down or break.

One study found that as much as 50% of hard drives fail every five years. It’s not a question of “if,” but “when.”

Other types of malfunction, like software errors, are even less predictable. When your application crashes while data is in transit, that data is usually toast. But sometimes, the crash can cause even worse damage to large sets of sitting data, too.

Factor in the risks of network hardware failure and other damage, and you’ve got a whole boatload of data loss accidents just waiting to happen, any day of the week.

How to combat it:

  • If you can’t afford to lose any data, then deploy BDR technology that allows for a more frequent backup schedule. This will allow you to set an aggressive Recovery Point Objective (RPO), so that your data loss after a hardware malfunction is minimal.
  • Datto uses Inverse Chain Technology, which allows for backups up to every 5 minutes, while also eliminating the most commonly occurring problems in traditional backup chains.
  • Patch your software and O/S frequently by installing the latest updates as soon as they become available. This can greatly reduce the bugs and system errors that lead to data loss.
  • Be aware of your hardware lifespan. Set schedules for upgrading various components every few years (based on manufacturer recommendations) to prevent unexpected failures.

4) Ransomware, viruses and other malware

Malware is one of the most frustrating causes of data loss, because it’s a threat that’s constantly evolving. It never totally goes away.

Every day, your anti-malware systems are blocking malicious viruses, bad websites, suspicious attachments, bad IP addresses, hijackers, worms, adware and more. But tomorrow, those threats will be back. And there will be new ones too: new strains of malware that your anti-virus systems don’t even know about it.

And, don’t even get us started on ransomware!

Ransomware has quickly become one of the biggest data killers today, costing small businesses billions of dollars a year in downtime alone. Attacks are happening every 40 seconds on average, locking businesses out of their data and bringing operations to a screeching halt.

But while ransomware is getting all the attention these days, other forms of malware remain just as dangerous.

  • Software update supply chain attacks” (when malware is discreetly implanted into otherwise-legitimate software updates) were up 200% in 2017, according to Symantec.
  • Mobile malware was up 52% last year, infecting data on the handheld devices that are increasingly used on business networks.
  • In one survey conducted by a leading data backup technology provider, 29% of respondents said their top causes of data loss were malware and viruses.

Not all malware targets your data with the same ferocity as ransomware. But all it takes is one virus to compromise some of your business-critical files or create instability in your software and operating systems, leading to a catastrophic data loss.

How to combat it:

  • Use business-grade anti-virus and anti-malware protection and make sure it updates automatically, every day.
  • Consider BDR technology with built-in malware protection. For example, Datto’s backup systems automatically detect the signs of a ransomware infection, quickly alerting administrators to roll back to a clean recovery point. Protection like this can vastly reduce the scale and spread of a ransomware attack.

Protect your business from the top causes of data loss

Get more information on how your business can prevent data loss with smarter backup and disaster recovery solutions from Datto. Request a free demo today, or contact us at (646) 395-1170 or

New call-to-action

Director of Marketing @ Invenio IT