Data Loss Stories: How to Backup & Recover Saved Databases

Unless your company runs on ledger books and typewriters, business operations are impossible without digital data. 

The roadmap to company success is written in the customer journey, which goes from awareness and interest, and beyond their buying decision. This roadmap is read in the data a company is able to gather, purchase, and access about its prospects and customers. 

Data loss is common in all businesses. In a worst-case scenario, data stored in a physical location, such as a server or hard drive, is gone forever.

To combat this catastrophic oversight, World Backup Day is held on March 31. It’s to remind users to back up their data and not make a fool of themselves on the following day, April 1st. 

What is Data Backup & Recovery?

Data backup refers to the creation of file copies that are held on-premise, or in a remote location. Data recovery is the process of restoring lost data by mirroring storage hardware.

Backed data can be stored in hardware such as hard drives, USB drives, and virtual servers in the cloud. Cloud data can be secured with the help of the third-party host or a supplemental system can be used to customize access, schedule backups, and integrate with other security systems.

The process of data recovery differs depending on if it’s on-premise, or with a remote third party. Access to the data, types of tools used, and the decision to use recovery consultants vary by company.

Unfortunately, running these processes of backup and recovery can occasionally result in losing data due to various system failures. 

What Causes Data Loss?  

Data can be lost by corruption, hardware failure, viruses, theft, and disgruntled employees. 

Whether losing data is intentional, accidental, or products of ignorance, it’s important to know what you’re up against and how to prevent loss.

Data Loss Scenarios & Tips

It’s said (not by Benjamin Franklin) that, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” In that spirit, here are some general tips to better prepare for data loss:

  • Get an IT assessment beforehand to know what data recovery technologies to invest in.
  • Gather a solid backup team with the right technical knowledge.
  • Invest in insurance plans that cover common IT and natural disasters —  especially ones that are region-specific.
  • Prioritize files so that the more important ones get the best protection. (This is usually sensitive info including finances, personal, access knowledge, etc.)

If backups are performed on a regular basis, a data loss strategy is created, and the right tools are used, future incidents will be easier to deal with. Having a system put in place will make those dumpster fires a little better to look at though. 

In the following examples, some companies put their time into investing and planning and recovered their data — and some did not. Data can be lost in many ways, but it is preventable:

1. Malware Attacks

Malware comes in many forms including viruses, spyware, trojan horses, and ransomware. Like a biological virus, its constant evolution increases its complexity. Whenever a new anti-malware system is created, a rogue developer finds a way around it.

Without any data security systems or redundancy in place, many companies have been forced to pay the ransom, hire an outside specialist (who might not be able to recover the data) … or start completely fresh.

Learn from data disaster history to prevent data loss: Y2K Changed Business Forever. So Will COVID-19.

As one of the largest hosting platforms, GitHub has been a target of numerous malware attacks. In 2018 they were a target of a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, affecting 1.35 terabytes of data. DDoS attacks are a method of disrupting site traffic and forcing them offline by overloading their network.

A year later in 2019, GitHub suffered another major attack when ransomware hit its users. Hackers removed source codes and threatened to make them public unless the developers paid back in Bitcoin.  

Tips for Malware Attacks

GitHub was able to ward off these attacks by using top-dollar mitigation services. But for smaller businesses, in-house solutions are available for use including end-user protection, firewalls, and anti-virus software.

Developers using GitHub also admitted to using weak or outdated passwords, and not checking access tokens. Although it’s annoying, adding a few special characters, throwing in numbers, or using a password generator can make a difference in enticing a hacker.

2. Server and Hard Drive Data Recovery

Office destruction comes in many ways including floods, lightning strikes, overheating, theft, or not returning a red stapler. These acts of unwarranted demolition to servers and drives result in lost data — unless you take the right steps in prevention.

Though it doesn’t happen as often as malware incidents (18 million websites are infected at a given time each week), natural disasters are a real threat to databases and networks. In places where catastrophes happen more often, such as a coastal city or island, extra precautions will need to be taken. 

Tips and Tools for Servers and Hard Drive Recovery

One of the more obvious solutions to disaster data recovery is having proper insurance and tracking weather beforehand. But insurance cannot bring back those lost reports, employee information, or financial documents.

In this situation, having offsite storage is ideal so that any on-site physical hardware can’t be destroyed. The major downside though to having offsite or third-party storage is surrendering control over physical management. 

After a natural disaster results in some sort of data loss, it is best to create an analysis that covers the following:

  • Systems put in place beforehand
  • Data backup technologies 
  • Kinds of damage done, and how much
  • Data recovery technologies in use
  • Recovered and unrecovered data
  • Plans for future data loss events 

3. Human Error & Neglect in Databases

There’s nothing available on the market to completely prevent simple human error — except not being human.

Avoiding mistakes is definitely worth a try, but what‘s more important is the prevention and aftermath work. Part of that work is data backup — which should be performed and tested on a regular basis. 

In 2008, a contractor working for the UK prison system lost an unencrypted USB drive containing sensitive information of over 80,000 prisoners. That data was not stored anywhere else and was considered lost.

For uncopied, unbacked data there is nothing else to be done except starting over. But not everyone is as neglectful.

Read how data normalization can prevent errors: What is Data Normalization & Why Should You Care?

On the other side of the globe, during the production of Toy Story 2, a staff member ran a command (rm *) that wiped out all database master files. The whole movie — gone in one keystroke.

A Pixar executive immediately went into recovery mode and reached for the backup files. Instead, they found out that the backups had been failing for a month.

The sole savior of this project, another developer had copies of the master files in her home computer. They were salvaged just in time to release the now-classic.

Tips for Database Human Error

It’s unknown if the UK prison system and Pixar were using the following method. But for incidents like this, the 3-2-1 backup process would have made data recovery less stressful. The process suggests users to:

  • Make three copies of each piece of data, stored in different locations.
  • Use two types of media for storage, which include varieties of drives, tapes, discs, and cards.
  • Offsite one of the data copies in case someone wipes out the only copy.

Data Backup & Recovery in Action

Not having any preparation for a data disaster can come back to haunt you — it’s scared enough businesses to conceive World Backup Day.

To ensure decreased chances of data loss and easier data recovery, assemble a knowledgeable security team, use multiple storage devices, store data in more than one location, and invest in the right security solutions.

After the storm that is data is over, it’s time to put plans into action. It’s important to remember the people that are benefiting from company data — clients and customers. Remember: every second of service being down is costly.