Recently we experienced what one might call a moment of dread which is depressing when you think about all the measures that were in place to prevent it. The humble Thumb, Flash or USB drive, a simple, readily available and convenient technology that allows you to store reasonable amounts of data, transport it easily, hide or even provide a cheap method of sharing data. It has been a goto technology for many a student, office worker or the household which when first introduced was an amazing advancement in portable storage. In my youth I remember the first time I left it in a computer in a university lab, returning a mere 30 minutes later to find it had vanished...granted someone probably took it...and in that moment I felt my world fall apart as I realised the only copy of my assignment was on it! Devastating 15 or so years ago but still relevant to today.
We often believe that as technology becomes more adopted that it will become cheaper, better and more reliable over time which is what you would expect. In my case I have been seeing these types of drives decline in reliability as the cost has decreased and I have adopted a stance that these drives should only be used to store duplicates, non critical files, non critical backups or to transport files which I extend to apply to any portable storage. In our business we have an array of options available for storing critical files and I have communicated the need to use these other technologies or options fairly extensively. Convenience was initially the biggest issue with USB drives and portable hard drives faster, easier and no security or filing protocols to follow. It is evident that many people prefer to opt for solutions that do not generally align with business practices due to convenience. This is not really the fault of people in general as it is often the inherent desire of people to opt for easy when this is an option in any aspect of their life. Recently we had an event where a USB drive prematurely failed after less than 9 months of use and several essential unique files with significant man hours associated with them were unrecoverable even though they were usually backed up on a second USB drive of the same make and model. In this case the backup never occurred and so the data was simply lost...tears from the owner followed...and it was clear that this event was unavoidable if the safeguards put in place by the business had been used.
We have experienced severe failures in our business and personal storage before and it has cost us dearly to engage recovery experts, to recreate content or through losses of files that simply cannot be recreated. We have spent money and bent effort to put in place systems that are simpler and easy to use both locally and remotely. We have had conversations in our business before about the impact of failures, disaster recovery and the use of portable drives. The problem is that when people become comfortable with an alternate way of doing things that are not aligned with your business it can create a scenario where people's personal habits override business practice. Suppose that a person has been using a system at home where they use two portable drives, USB or hard drive to keep a duplicate and they believe that this system is enough in the business even though your business processes demand a different approach then this can be the source of an issue in the making. In this scenario it is possible that people do not duplicate files immediately when they are in a hurry and a failure occurs then this creates a potential risk of loss. Suppose they use two drives of the same make and model or keep them in the same place, the likelihood of the drives failing at similar times is more likely, the drives could be stolen or they could be dropped or even destroyed. In the case of USB drives which are electronic they have what is referred to as a random failure pattern which means that they can fail at anytime, after 1 minute of use through to 5 years or anywhere in between and to make life extra exciting there can be no warning before this happens.
It is often said that people usually learn from their mistakes but in my experience there is usually a significant cost or consequence required which we are not prepared to wear when it happens. It is essential that in business that we engage with our staff, discover their bad habits when it comes to data storage, handling, transport and backups it should be with an eye for improvement. We need to work with our staff to discover compromises, share our experiences, focus on developing a consistent culture and treat this issue as something that is not just a training scenario but something we all work towards. Our employees are our gateway to success and finding ways to encourage better behaviours is worth the effort if it means keeping your business data safe. It is worth having the discussion, engaging with your teams to minimise their risk to the business, to them and perhaps encourage them to think about how they manage their own data at home. Remember that staff often nod their heads to confirm understanding and then do the complete opposite so it is necessary for this to be more than about your business and extended to be about your staff as people who can create a culture as simply having a one of conversation is likely not to stick.
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Technical Services Manager
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