Volume 19, Number 27 -- July 26, 2010

Human Error the Number One Cause of Data Loss, Survey Says

Published: July 26, 2010

by Alex Woodie

Instead of cussing out the computer the next time data comes up missing, you should point the blame at yourself, according to a recent survey by Kroll Ontrack. The data recovery software vendor found that human error is the cause for 40 percent of the cases of data loss, compared to 29 percent for hardware or system failures. The human error number was up considerably from a similar study five years ago, indicating big changes in how we interact with computers.

Kroll Ontrack said the big jump in data loss incidents attributable to human error was "staggering." When the Minneapolis, Minnesota, company conducted a similar study in 2005, people identified human error as the cause for losing data in 11 percent of the cases, while 56 percent of data loss incidents were attributed to hardware or system failures.

By comparison, data loss attributed to computer viruses came in at 7 percent, a small jump up from 3 percent in the 2005 study. Data loss attributable to natural disasters came in at 3 percent, up one percentage point from 2005.

The survey involved more than 2,000 participants from 17 countries across North America, Europe, and the Asia Pacific region. It cut across industry and professional lines, so it likely included computer novices and Your Grandma Millie, as well as hackers and CIOs. The company did not include a margin of error with the results of the study, but based on the large sample size (and assuming it was done in a scientific manner), it would have been fairly low, around 3 or 4 percent.

Besides the lack of an error rate (after all, we are all fallible) in the study, there was one caveat involving the 40 percent human error figure. According to Kroll Ontrack, four out of 10 people "believed" human error was the cause, but only 27 percent of survey respondents could actually connect the dots and be absolutely sure that human error was the root cause.

This suggests that (gasp!) people aren't totally sure what's going on inside their computers. It's not surprising that there would be a disconnect, considering that the volumes of data we keep continues to increase geometrically, and computers continue to become bigger parts of our lives. This thesis is bolstered by the fact that Kroll Ontrack reports that its engineers have not seen any noticeable change in incidents of data loss caused by hardware failures over the last five years.

If one thing is certain, it's that there is a disconnect between people's perceptions of backup and recovery strategies, and the realities. The best way to overcome this perception gap is by focusing on proven data protection solutions, the company says.

"Business and home users alike cannot rely on hope as their strategy," says Todd Johnson, vice president of data recovery operations at Kroll Ontrack. "Instead, they must take proactive measures to ensure the individuals operating the storage system have current training, working redundancies, and a continuity plan that is current and accessible in the event of a loss."

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