Data loss has been an issue for as long as data has been a thing. It doesn’t matter if it was 2 years ago, 20 years ago or 2000 years ago. Many things can lead to data loss, from accidental deletion to malicious attacks and even physical disasters. 

Now, we didn’t say 2000 years ago for no reason. One of the biggest losses of data in world history is from the Library of Alexandria. From Julius Caesar accidentally burning some of the contents to invaders purposely destroying scrolls, overall the library has lost about 200,000 pieces of work, full of world learnings and historical knowledge. 

It is a fascinating story and one in which we can learn a lot about protecting data, but it was quite a while ago now. We can’t blame them for not knowing how important backups were, when there are so many people today not giving them the attention they deserve! Here are a few stories about history’s biggest data losses that are a bit more recent and what we can learn from them. 

1. Pixar’s Woes 

A lot of Pixar films start off with tragedy. There’s then a bunch of hardship and strife before eventually finishing with a happy ending. Toy Story 2 was no different, but we don’t mean the story, we’re talking about the production. 

There was actually a fair amount of drama throughout the creation of the film, but all that we are interested in today is what happened on the day that they accidentally deleted nearly the entire film. It all started with one of the animators performing a routine clear out of their file storage. Upon entering the command in the wrong directory, the whole film started deleting. 

Team members reportedly say they could see the film being deleted in front of their eyes, with items and characters disappearing from their screens in real time. The machine that was executing the clean-up was quickly switched off, but not before deleting 90% of the film. 

Luckily, Pixar were diligent enough to have backups. They would only lose half a day of work, rather than months that they had already spent on it. Well, they would if their backups actually worked. Unfortunately, they had not regularly checked their backups and they weren’t working properly. It turns out that they had hit the 4GB limit on their backup tapes and any new data was pushing old data out of the backups. This means that once the files were restored, there were thousands of other files referenced that just didn’t exist. 

The happy ending is that the supervising technical director at the time had recently given birth to her son and had subsequently been working from home. After rushing back and retrieving the computer, they managed to restore almost everything they had worked on, saving years of man-hours. 

What we can learn 

Have data backups. Make sure backups work. Save time, money and stress! Pixar got lucky and stumbled onto a solution for their problem. Don’t think you would be able to do the same if it happened to you! 

2. 21st Century hacking 

These days, most of the data loss we hear about is from hacking and malware. Whilst we hear about it more and more often it isn’t necessarily the biggest form of data loss, rather a costly and time-consuming exercise, as generally businesses do manage to get their data back. We just hear about it more because it’s a lot more exciting news than, “We accidentally pressed delete, sorry.”. 

Despite this, some businesses do still lose data. Even those that comply with hackers’ demands and get a recovery key only recover 65% of data on average. So just how much data is lost/stolen by hackers? Here’s a few of the biggest data breaches in History: 

  • 3.5 billion accounts – Yahoo suffered data breaches in 2013 and 2014, totalling this vast number of records that fell into hackers’ hands. Luckily, for whatever reason, it seems that this data was not used and reports didn’t even hit the news until the end of 2016. 
  • 1.1 billion records – An Alibaba shopping site, Taobao, was targeted by a developer that was working on the site. They scraped users’ usernames, phone numbers and more for over 8 months, meaning they essentially copied text that was entered on the site. The developer and their employer were both sentenced to 3 years in prison for the crime. 
  • 700 million records – LinkedIn user data was collected from a variety of techniques, giving the hacker access to information such as user location, contact information and other details. LinkedIn argue that this data was not sensitive, but this is ignoring how useful the information is for criminals to create intricate, personal, social-engineering attacks on their users. 
  • Other big businesses that suffered from high profile attacks include Facebook, Weibo, Marriott International, Myspace and many more, totalling billions of users’ information across the world.  

What we can learn 

Security is incredibly important, both for businesses and for users. Businesses need to ensure that their employees are fully trained on how to spot malicious activity, such as phishing emails and dodgy websites. Policies and permissions should be in place to avoid programs being downloaded/executed on machines. They should be using very high levels of cybersecurity software to keep attackers at bay. 

Users should ensure that they are cyber aware. Don’t fall for social engineering campaigns that come as a result of these data breaches. Also, enable 2-factor authentication on everything you sign up for to ensure that if a hacker does get your password, they still won’t be able to access your account. 

3. Ma.gnolia 

You probably don’t remember this promising start up from 2006, but it was rapidly growing its userbase over its few short years in service. This site allowed users to create and organise bookmarks to other websites, either privately or publicly. After finding such quick success, it is a shame what happened to it, essentially ending the business overnight. In 2009, they suffered a complete server outage and lost all user data. 

Unfortunately, the founder, who was seemingly the only person behind the site, did not correctly set up separate backups of their data. Basically, there was no failsafe. It also turns out that the servers just consisted of a few machines that the founder was running themself. No dedicated servers in a data centre or anything sophisticated like that. Some users managed to retrieve their data from external sources that they had linked to Ma.gnolia, such as RSS feeds and Google cache data, but the site was dead. 

Afterwards, the founder tried to relaunch the site under the name Gnolia, but it was unsuccessful, shutting down completely in 2010. The userbase had all already moved across to a competitor and Gnolia couldn’t regain their reputation. 

What we can learn 

Data loss can lead to the end of a business. In fact, 72% of businesses that suffer major data loss shut down completely within 2 years. It isn’t just the value of the data that is an issue, but the loss in reputation with your customers. 

Again, make sure your backups are working as planned by regularly testing that you can retrieve your data. Also, ensure your servers are protected with failover and backups. Don’t just stick a computer in your shed and think that will be enough! 

Contact Us 

Nutbourne are experts in all things data. We can help you keep your business running and your data secure. 

So, if you’d like to find out more about our data backup solutions, our cybersecurity services or our work more generally as a London managed service provider, then get in touch! Contact Nutbourne today on +44 (0) 203 7273 or by filling out an enquiry form on our website.