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Latest Data Leakage Scandal Highlights Government’s Use Of Outmoded Storage Technology

November 2009 by Marc Jacob

Farmers’ Weekly has reported that two back up tapes, containing thousands of farmers’ bank details, have been lost by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA). Concerned whistleblowers recently leaked the story to the publication.

The Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) knew about the loss, back in May, says Farmers Weekly, and the RPA knew in September, but nothing was done to advise farmers of the risk they faced.

Quite who is responsible and how the tapes were lost is still being hotly debated with a lot of buck passing going on. According to one Farmers’ Weekly source, the tapes weren’t encrypted, as they should have been, increasing the risk.

This sorry story clearly illustrates the problem of using tape as a medium for backing-up confidential data. Tape is very vulnerable to human error. It has to be taken off site and stored, which leads to potential loss and damage. Human error is the most common cause of difficulties with tape back-up, while failure of the tape itself is another frequent problem.

Ian Kilpatrick, chairman of IT security specialist Wick Hill, commented: “It really wasn’t necessary for the RPA to put itself at risk by using tape for back-up. Tape is a very old technology and there are modern alternatives available which don’t use tape and could have avoided these problems.

“Barracuda Networks, for example, has a solution which combines a server on-site, for fast restoration of data locally, with secure offsite cloud-based storage, hosted by UK data centres, where data is replicated. Backing up is done automatically and no tape is involved.

“Given that Government is looking to save money in the current recession, the RPA could also have cut its costs and saved on manpower by using this method of back up.

“The combination of inclusive backup software, integrated local storage, data de-duplication technology, and offsite cloud-based storage leads to significantly simplified deployment, less storage space required and cost savings from increased productivity.”

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