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USPS Lose Data Courtesy of a Failed Backup

Data loss can happen to absolutely anyone. No single piece of hardware is one hundred percent fool proof and will, at some point in time, fail. Users and enterprises try to reduce this by implementing redundancy in their data plans. This means that there will be other copies of the data to fall back on, even if one of them fails.

In a story that proves data loss can strike anyone or any business, no matter the size, the United States Postal Service have lost an entire database worth of data. The database was designed to record and monitor security incidents. However, there was a failure in the hard drive that stored the database and the backup copy.

The drive failed due to the platter inside failing, which is one of the most common reasons why hard drives fail. The platters in a hard drive are extremely delicate and even a tiny scratch on them can destroy data.

Chuck McGann, the Chief Information Officer for USPS, confirmed that the company had lost the digital copy of the database. However, the hard copy records still exist in the firm’s security office in North Carolina. Nevertheless, information stored digitally obviously offers benefits like easy indexing and analysing, something which can’t be quickly gained from hard copy records.

McGann spoke to FedScoop in a phone interview and defended himself, saying that the requirement was for them to have the information – which they do, when they “pointed to the five file cabinets where we have physical copies of all the incidents.”

Any good system admin should know that no backup redundant unless it’s stored off site. Although USPS do backup critical databases off site, this particular one was apparently classed as merely essential. The firm published a report detailing the incident. The report concluded that even “essential” data should be backed up off site.

“Operations 101 says that you don’t keep your backup on the same device that you keep your production,” said McGann. “I guess it was one of those things where, in hindsight, we should’ve checked.”

Coincidently, the Postal Service has been planning to migrate their systems to a new service. The reason the hardware failure was found in the first place was because of the migration. Luckily, due to the existence of hard copies and the speed at which the failure was addressed when found, the overall damage was fairly minimal.

The business will be doing a full scan of their systems in order to find out if there are any other weaknesses that could occur elsewhere, whether in a database or wider.

“Noncritical information stored on mainframes, servers, workstations, and mobile devices should be backed up and stored off-site at a location that is not subject to the same threats as the original information,” concluded the report.

It usually takes a disaster for a business to realise just how crucial a solid backup plan can be, so hopefully the United States Postal Service have truly learnt from this mistake and will ensure their files are totally protected.


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