The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 18, Number 4-5
Aug-Sep 1994

Foolproof Solutions for the Foolhardy

by Carleen Bridgeman

Reprinted with permission from Disaster Recovery Journal, April-June 1994, p. 77. The author is employed at Data Retrieval Services, Inc., Clearwater, Florida.

When you think of "lost data," you might immediately think of a natural disaster such as a fire, flood or earthquake that has completely destroyed your office and left your computer in ruins.

More than 80% of the damaged drives that have been recovered had suffered damage from simple, common problems that could have been prevented if the company had a good, simple foolproof data backup system.

Every drive has a normal lifespan, and it is always a question of when it will fail, not a question of if.

When a disgruntled employee left a large company, he decided to leave behind more than just a messy desk. A virus was left on the company's computer that slowly and methodically latched itself to all the company programs. Another employee encrypted all of the company data files and left with the only known password.

Human error also plays a major role in causing the loss of computer data. One company was confident that they had a very fail-safe backup system in place only to discover that when their computer failed and they reinstalled data from the tape backups, that the only files that were saved were the program files, and no data files had been backed up.

Another company employee always backed up each night to a cartridge tape and very carefully used the same tape over and over to back up data onto. Then tragedy hit; the drive failed just as she was backing up the data to the only tape cartridge and all data was lost. You see, the first thing a tape does during the backup process is to erase all the data on the tape from the last backup, and as it was reading data, the computer's drive failed.

A major corporation kept nine sets of backup disk packs with duplicate information on them so as to prevent any kind of data loss. The tenth was kept in a locked vault. When the computer's drive failed, the technician very carefully got a backup pack and placed it in the damaged drive, found the backup didn't work, got another, and another, then another, still another. Failing all nine packs, he very cleverly got the combination to the vault, removed the final pack, put that one on the drive and actually ruined all ten backup packs due to the fact that the damaged head from the bad drive continued to crash every backup in the house. Almost unbelievable, isn't it?

A firm's secretary was anxious to use a friend's program and was installing it as a "surprise" for her boss. The "friend" told her how to install the unauthorized copy of the software, and she proceeded to overwrite all the data on the computer's drive and destroy all the company's actual data.

A company's drive failed and an employee decided to recover the data himself. He proceeded to use one commercial recovery program after another, leaving the drive overwritten with computer solutions instead of recovering the actual "lost" data.

When a computer repair company received a customer's drive, the customer asked them to upgrade the computer and transfer the data from the old drive to the new one. The technician placed the old drive on the corner of the table, and it fell to the floor, knocking all the drive's platters out of alignment. There were no backups.

When the external disk drive sat happily atop an air conditioner, it happily vibrated itself to the edge of the unit and at the end of each week, the employee would resituate it at the center, until he was out sick for a few days and it happily vibrated itself onto the floor.

All of the above disasters could have been prevented if a good, reliable backup system was in place and operating.

There are just a few backup tips you need to know about when instituting a backup plan:

  1. Use a simple, reliable method, one that verifies its backups easily and is easy to use. An inexpensive hard disk backup utility such as Norton Backup Version 1.2 or Central Point Backup Version VI is fast and easy to use. It will back up your data to floppy disks or tapes and verify the integrity of the backup.
  2. Whatever backup method you use, always have more than one set of backups. Don't use the same tape to back up data to each time, or even the same set of floppy disks. Realize that when you back up, you are overwriting to the media at the same time.
  3. Always have a second method on hand as a secondary backup. If you are using a tape backup system, try backing up important data files to floppy about once a week as a secondary backup just in case the tape fails.
  4. If your computer is connected to a large network computer, take a few minutes each week to make simple backups of those data files that are important to you.
  5. Always include an off-site backup copy to your backup procedure. Once a month make a backup of your computer and take the floppies or tapes away from the office. When the backup is stored at the same location as the computer, it is equally at risk when a disaster strikes.
  6. Have a firm company policy about bringing in software from outside sources into the office. You can run anti-viral software on a computer in just a few minutes that can isolate and destroy many computer viruses. The Norton Anti-Virus is a good investment in preventing a whole lot of computer troubles.
  7. Never make changes to a computer without backing it up first. That includes both software and hardware changes. Don't depend on a computer service center to save your data when upgrading your system. When taking your computer into a service center, back up your data first.

A growing amount of conservation and preservation information is being stored on computers, making it vulnerable to accident, disaster and vandalism. This includes disaster plans, conservation records, and other important information. Although the experts who tend an institution's mainframe or LAN have the main responsibility for protecting the institution's electronic records, they cannot cover everything. Furthermore, not everyone works in an institution with experts on call.

Similar articles appeared recently in the July issue of the magazine Compuserve and in Vol. 14 #6 of the 501 (c) (3) Monthly Letter. They recommended the following precautions, in addition to those in the Disaster Recovery Journal.

  1. Use high quality surge protectors with all sensitive equipment. [They also recommend an uninterruptible power supply, in case the power goes out while you are using the computer; a good idea but expensive.]
  2. In addition to excluding outside software from the office, assign a staff member to periodically police all computers for conformity.
  3. Use passwords and update them periodically. Don't use names, initials or nicknames as passwords.
  4. Install recovery utilities throughout the system and train several key people on how to use them.
  5. Fasten the computer to the desk.
  6. Test backup procedures for both transaction files and programs, on a regular basis.
  7. Get software licenses for copies in use, to avoid penalties.
  8. Purchase quality computer hardware that is not likely to fail, and prepare for hardware failure by establishing alternate sites from which operations can be carried on.
  9. Establish an account with computer repair and replacement sources for all equipment before any equipment fails.
  10. Develop a written disaster plan for the computer system, and see that key employees are familiar with it.
  11. Buy insurance and make sure you understand what is covered.

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