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Updated 09/17/2016

 The best time for data loss is never.
 The next best is after completing a
 full back-up.
 Most data losses occur years after
 first using your computer.

 Fixing the loss is challenging if even
Preventing it is possible
 and often easy and inexpensive.  You
 just have to get started and back-up
 files on a regular basis. 

Frequently asked AFTER a data loss, most people with equipment under 5 years old it was their failure to prepare for failure.  Generally new computer equipment is reliable beyond a 5 year period of protected from power spikes, malware, and high temperatures.  Materials failure or manufacturing risks are generally very low. After a loss, many have little insight into what all has been lost in an effort to recollect records, rebuild etc.  A little time invested is the "ounce of prevention".

These are not in any particular order as new techniques and technology have changed the order several times.  In the end the weakest link in data loss prevention is the loose nut between the keyboard and the chair.


1.  Hardware Failure
      a)  disk drive failure for reasons beyond your reasonable control
      b)  disk drive failure from materials, manufacturing or assembly defect(s)
      c)  disk controller failure resulting in data being corrupted to the disk drive
      d)  defect in the cable from the computer to the disk drive
      e)  software failure moving information to the disk drive
      f)  overheating of the computer or the disk drive
      g) any number of other failure points

2.  Malicious Attack
     Attacks through web sites or links you should not have clicked on in e-mails or
     web sites are frequently the source of these problems.  The worst currently in
     use is Ransomware which encrypts your entire disk drive and demands payment
     in Bitcoins, sent electronically, before they will provide the key to unencrypt.
     You may also learn every hour you delay, the Ransomware automatically
     deletes 20% of your files.  You are assuming that (a) they will actually send you
     a key promptly upon paying the ransom and (b) that their decryption process is
     NOT going to leave your files damaged.  How can you trust an extortionist?

     You also have the group that just wants to corrupt or destroy files and those
     who want to grab your files to see what secrets they can leverage against you.

     Keeping your firewall and anti-virus software current at all times will help in
     this area but is not 100% protection due to multiple changing factors.

3.  Deleted Data
     Often this is either "I didn't mean to hit THAT key" or "I didn't know I still
     needed THAT file", to "that's a really dumb filename for an important file!"
     If you are lucky you can obtain the file from the software vendor if they are
     able and willing to help you and you remember what you deleted.  If the file(s)
     are still in your Recycle Bin, you can save your self potentially.

4.  Overwritten File(s)
     Potential that you copied a file to a new name and wiped out something
     important or you mistyped a filename to copy something to and wiped a file
     out.  Of course you ignored the warning about replacing the original file.

5.  Server Crash
     The computer your files are stored on is a server, potentially operated by a
     third party provider and they had technical problems resulting in data loss.
     Good third party providers should be able to recover in a matter of minutes by
     using replicated/duplicated data on a different disk without you knowing of the
     loss.  This is, after all, their problem not yours.

6.  Natural Disaster
     Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, mud slides, floods, severe storms, cut
     cables during construction work, planes falling from the sky, forrest fires, and
     many other events can cause problems.  A good data center has planned for
     such events as best as one can, and arranged for a fail-over disaster recovery
     site to automatically "kick in" without you potentially experiencing any loss or

7.  Human Error
     Today this is the least likely to cause loss with a good recovery scheme for a
     commercial data center and the most likely for home computers.


General areas for loss include:
  •  Equipment Failure
  •  Network Failure
  •  Human Error
  •  Environmental Issue (Power, Cooling, Harsh Weather, Water, Fire, etc.)

The causes are wide spread and sometimes not possible to clearly define in a case.

Inside a modern laptop, processors are very reliable but not infallible; they can and have and have failed from cell phones to mainframe computers.  Not often but it does happen.  Processors act as a "general foreman" directing activities inside of the computer.  If the "foreman" stops working or orders an action in error, bad things can happen including the computer simply "freezing" or stop working.  Any data that was still in memory or "in transit" to being fully written to a disk is at risk and save to assume lost or corrupted.

An communication system that transfers data between components inside a computer, or between computers. This is not limited to any connection type (copper wire, optical fiber, laser, etc.) and software, including communication protocols.


A chip or expansion card within the computer that interfaces with a peripheral device.  The interfaces supports the transfer of data and control messages between the computer and the peripheral device.

Electronic interim storage devices intended to adapt the speed of data flow to and from devices capable of different transfer speeds.  These devices help to insure data is not lost and can confirm when data was safely written to a device.


A hardware or software component that stores data so future requests for that data can be served faster; the data stored in a cache might be the result of an earlier computation, or the duplicate of data stored elsewhere. 



A data storage device that includes flash memory with an integrated USB interface. USB flash drives are typically removable and rewritable, and physically much smaller than an optical disc. As of January 2013, drives of up to 512 gigabytes (GB) were available with open market providing up to 128 gigabytes (GB).  Capacities up to one terabyte (TB) where unveiled in 2013 and available later that year with 2 TB planned.  Some allow up to 100,000 write/erase cycles, depending on the exact type of memory chip used, and have a 10-year shelf storage time.

Magnetic coated platters on a single spindle that are written to with read/write heads on a single set of arms so that they can be quickly and accurately positioned as the disks spin at very high speeds.  Capacities can be into the Terabytes.  The use internal disk controllers within the computer and are internally stored devices within the computer.  When writing new data, the data is simply written in areas that do not hold current data and do not require an erasure like Thumb Drives, Flash Memory or traditional Memory circuits.  The disk simply changes the magnetic pattern written on the magnetic disk surface by the disk heads.

Thumb Drives or "Flash Drives" are a small external Flash Disk connecting through a USB port on the computer.  This device is housed in a rectangular container but contains less storage as it is designed for portable use between devices.  These devices can be "read" from many times without appreciable wear but experience greater wear for each "write" performed.  In a circuit it is necessary to initiate the erasure of data being overwritten PRIOR to writing the data due to the way circuits work. 

Flash drives are "solid state" drives containing a controller and high speed memory circuits that can produce dramatic speed enhancements to a computer if used in an optimal manner.  They are available at higher costs and smaller capacities than traditional Disk Drives but their cost per Gigabyte is decreasing along with other storage devices.  These are typically a drive that is within a computer.

Once the only storage on personal computers, diskette drives are by all measures functionally obsolete.  They are the slowest of storage devices.  The amount of data that can be stored (density) is the lowest.  The access time to retrieve or write the data to them is the slowest.  The medium contained inside the diskette is very susceptible to damage.  The highest density commercially available diskette was 1.2 Megabytes.  Today the "thumb drive" or circuit card drive require less space, only a USB connection port and can currently support 128 Gigabytes or approximately 107,000 times more data and operate at a dramatically faster speed and higher reliability.

CD/DVD/Blu-ray Devices
Theses are classified as "optical storage".  It is possible for all three different formats to be incorporated into one device allowing for greater use and flexibility in your use of the device.  Some, with the correct optical media, will allow you to re-write an optical disk.

In some computers these special purpose cards to handle network communications for the computer have been integrated into the "Mother Board" of the computer to which all important things are connected.


 What is the value of your data and impact if lost? 

The value in terms of dollars and impact of loss and misuse is critical as this guides you in defining the need for quick or casual recovery and the importance of the loss.

If you are protecting the results of last week's football game scores, this data has low impact risk and is easily recaptured.  If you are protecting access codes to a US nuclear missile from unauthorized personal, a loss could be devastating.  You will spend more and take more frequent action to prevent a loss for situations where loss is of great cost and/or impact.

 What are the risk areas, what are they, what is their purposes?  

In this area there is a divergence in approach for the consumer and their laptop versus a corporation.  Scale of operation is one factor as the corporation likely employs multiple sites, multiple telecommunications providers using gigabit speeds to remote locations.  The consumer has one perhaps four laptops in their residence, one site and one telecommunications provider by default making the risk and costs lower for the consumer.

The consumer therefore focuses, for data protection, on the factors of:
  -  age of equipment (beyond 5 years increases failure risks)
  -  storage consumed, retention requirements and access requirements
  -  removal of any single location loss

Equipment beyond 5 years should be a candidate for replacement unless frequency of use is low, such a few hours per week with minimal power on/off cycles.

Storage consumed can be determined by looking at semi-annual increases in total storage; value is this review more frequently than quarterly is not necessary.
Retention will depend on the types of data saved.  If this is household data it may be simpler to assume life time as the cost of storage continues to decline and the technology for higher density storage devices at lower costs improves.  Thus you weigh the increasing costs for management against decreasing costs for capacity and performance making the choice easier.  By using a weekly update with a small low cost storage device of 1 TB, you can easily backup updated items and save it within a fire proof save for quick access.  If the cost for a save is not practical, look at saving it at a different location such as a trusted family member or Safety Deposit Box for a monthly update of the saved data.  Retain two sets of data and never remove both at the same time to eliminate risks in transit and handling.

 Candidates for Retention and Storage Approach of Key Data 


Many parts of the country are susceptible to disasters whether it be from hurricanes, wild fires, cyclonic activity, explosions, floods, civil disobedience or other events that could impede the return to our homes.  In such cases, it is process to request verification of identity which may be impractical to impossible.

Create a Personal ID Folder on your computer which will contain the following folders you will populate then update as appropriate:
  -  Birth Certificates (for original or government issued duplicate scans)

  -  Social Security (for cards and contribution records)

  -  Driver's Licenses (for Photo ID from government with address)

  -  Insurance Documents (for car, home, boat, medical, life, etc. insurance)

  -  Insurance Cards (for treatment, hospitalization, medications as needed)

  -  Academic Records (establishing children's school completion)

  -  Credit Cards (contact and account numbers, names on card, PINs, expire)

  -  Bank Accounts (contact and account numbers, names on accounts, etc.)

  -  Investments (contact and account numbers, names on accounts, etc.)

  -  Employer Emergency Contact (contact numbers to report status, safety)

  -  Family & Friends Contacts for notification/updates

  -  Pet information including identification chips and their medical records

This information, being digital in form using a scanner, can easily fit onto the smallest of "Thumb Drives" or other storage device and kept with you.  Be alert to knowing where this device is in the event of an emergency and since it contains very confidential insight into your world should it be stolen or lost.  If such emergency would arise, you have the means to establish your identities and avoid some of the frustration dealing with aid relief and government agencies in seeking assistance or retaining what is legally yours in a time of crisis.

Create a Records Folder with subfolders as warranted.  Examples would be:
 - 2016 for all expenses, income, taxes, etc. for calendar year 2016 plus
    other years as separate folders as appropriate 

 - Owners Manuals for all items purchased with subfolders by manufacturer
    and a sub folder for each product to retain purchase documents, User
    Documents, Parts Information, Warranty documents, etc.  Many can be
    downloaded in PDF format from the manufacturer.

 - Legal for all items pertaining Wills, Marriages, Divorces, Separations, 
    Social Security Benefits communications, Adoptions, Death Certificates, 
    Litigation you were involved in, Real Estate transactions, Inheritances,
    Powers of Attorney, Federal and State Income Tax Returns and proof of
    payment, Insurance Policy information (Medical, Dental, Vision,
    Hospitalization, Prescription, Life, Accident, Liability, Home, Cars, Boats,
    Aircraft, special coverage agreements, etc.).

 - Medical with subfolders for each family member including pets that will
    contain copies of prescriptions, examinations, prior surgeries, known
    allergies, known reactions to medications and food/beverage, copies of
    any documents approving government assistance, colonoscopy reports
    and blood lab work, X-Ray reports, etc.