Kroll Ontrack Research: Data loss due to IT administrator oversights may heighten information security risks
June 2015 by Kroll Ontrack
Kroll Ontrack released its most recent list of common IT administrator errors that can lead to data loss and network downtime. The findings indicate that the complexity in storage environments and sheer growth in data volume can result in serious data loss when human error strikes, leaving many organisations vulnerable to security risks and financial implications if they do not properly invest in and adhere to technology risk management policies.
"The complexity involved in managing today’s virtual IT environments combined with the growing amount of data that streams through corporate networks requires diligent IT administration and effective data management policies," said Paul Le Messurier, Programme and Operations Manager at Kroll Ontrack. "Nevertheless, humans are not infallible, and accidental deletion or a failed backup can result in unknowingly losing customer or proprietary information, or the inability to access important evidence required to diagnose a security event."
A recent EMC survey found that companies lose more than $1 million annually because of data loss and that 26 per cent of data loss instances are the result of accidental user error. In the event of a security breach, human error resulting in failed data backups could mean a company is without vital event log information to articulate where the attack or malware originated. Additionally, for organisations facing stringent regulatory requirements, a vulnerable information security landscape combined with inadvertent server deletion could lead to loss of audit evidence, leaving organisations open to incurring unnecessary and expensive penalties or litigation.
"Many organisations simply do not invest sufficient resources into understanding or developing policies based on threats and risk. Add to the mix common IT oversights, and you’ve got a compelling story for security vulnerability and data loss," said Dr. Richard Scott, Director of Information Security, Kroll Ontrack. "Prioritising hardware upgrades, rigorously testing and validating IT network processes, investing in skilled and experienced professionals, and enlisting the support of a data recovery expert are fundamental precautions every business decision maker must consider."
The following are the most common IT mistakes or oversights that could lead to data loss and security vulnerability, according to Kroll Ontrack:
Failure to document and execute established IT, retention and backup procedures. A test server moves into production, but no one informs IT that it is now capturing valuable data, and the data is not being backed up. In another scenario, the departure of a key knowledge holder for the environment creates confusion or an undocumented pool of unknown detail about the configuration and use of the system.
Failure to backup effectively. In a recent survey of Kroll Ontrack data recovery customers, 61 per cent had a backup in place at the time of data loss - either the backup was not functioning properly, the desired storage device was not included in the backup or the backup was not current. Testing backup policies, identifying correct storage and validating backup integrity is critical.
Delay in infrastructure or security investments. Many cases of data loss are a result of companies failing to invest in infrastructure updates or security.
Failure to adhere to and maintain relevant security policies and/or keep OS and security controls up to date. Even the smallest failure in IT security can lead to devastating results, including data loss and expense. Administrators need to leverage elevated privileges appropriately, restrict passwords only to required users, and change them when an IT administrator leaves the company. Adequately update OS security patches and malware protection controls to guard against cyber-attacks and malicious agents.
Deleting data that is still in active use. Kroll Ontrack routinely performs data recovery on tapes or server networks that are thought to be out of use, but still contain active data.
Kroll Ontrack recommends IT departments follow these best practices in light of data loss, to ensure the best chance of an effective resolution:
Avoid panicking and rushing to action. If data loss happens, companies should not restore data to the source volume from backup because this is where the data loss occurred in the first place. They should also not create new data on the source volume, as it could be corrupt or damaged.
Be confident in skills and knowledge. IT staff must help leadership avoid making decisions that do more harm than good. When specifically faced with a possible data loss event, the volume should quickly be taken off line. Data is being overwritten at a rapid pace, and the volume should not be formatted to resolve corruption.
Have a plan. Staff should follow established ITIL processes and ensure data centre documentation is complete and revisited often to ensure it is up to date. In particular, IT staff should not run volume utilities (CHKDSK/FSCK) or update firmware during a data loss event.
Know the environment (and the data). IT staff must understand what their storage environment can handle and how quickly it can recover. Knowing what data is critical or irreplaceable, whether it can be re-entered or replaced, and the costs for getting that data up and running to a point of satisfaction is important. Staff must weigh up the costs and risks when determining what is most urgent - getting their systems up and running quickly or protecting the data that is there.
When in doubt, call a data recovery company. While the manufacturer or vendor may be a good starting point, the value of data and the potential for data loss when getting a system back up and running may not be top of mind. Staff should be sure to consult a reputable data recovery company if concerns over data loss arise.