Surefire Ways To Safeguard Your Company’s Data
Backing up and storing valuable data is a best practice, and a crucial part of any viable business interruption plan. While these measures seem obvious, you might be amazed at how much there is that you should know about data protection — and probably don’t.
From Advanced Technology Advancement (ATA) disks measured in terabytes (one terabyte equals 1,000 gigabytes) to how commonly-used vaults can harm your digital data, new levels of protection — as well as threats to your business’s security — are constantly changing.
Incorporate the following four steps to help safeguard your company’s data.
Step One: Hire
Educated IT People
Milwaukee-based Advance Chemical Co. learned the hard way that having the best information technology (IT) person is paramount, when a virus written to destroy Microsoft data erased all of its proprietary documents.
Owner Mark Halaska said it took months to understand the full impact of the event, recreating everything in Word, Excel and PowerPoint — tutorials, proposals, MSDS sheets, logos, fax templates — the list is almost endless. Luckily, the virus didn’t affect e-mail or customer data, which were stored on non-Microsoft platforms.
He admits he had a laissez faire approach to IT. He thought hackers only went for banks and larger companies, and he had a department manager that seemed competent with computers perform the backups every night.
But, on a Friday morning three years ago, he walked into the office and heard employees exclaiming that they couldn’t open their computer files. Every Microsoft-created document had been corrupted, and the biggest blow of all: there was no backup, because the person responsible was only backing up their operating system — not the network where their data and documents were stored.
The last helpful backup had occurred 13 months before, so they lost every moment of 13 months worth of creativity and labor spent creating or refining their proprietary business tools. “The loss of time put into it, to develop it, to format it, was a huge loss,” says Halaska. “It also sends a bad signal internally and externally that you don’t have control of your business.”
The virus’ point of entry was the one computer out of 19 that didn’t have virus protection — an online unit in the service department that received heavy use downloading schematics and parts.
“It wasn’t penny pinching,” concludes Halaska. “What changed the landscape was access to the Internet. The high-speed line is a 24/7 faucet open in both directions, out and in. I’ve always had good accountants, a professional CPA firm, and a good attorney with a large firm. I just didn’t do it that way on the IT side.”
Today, Advance has a contract with several professional IT outfits. They have upgraded all of their systems with firewalls, sophisticated virus protection that updates itself online every night, and a bigger storage device for CD backups. The CDs are stored in 11-day increments, written over when the next set is stored, and moved off-site at year-end.
The cost to implement an IT solution varies by the number of computers involved, and the sophistication of the software. Consultants say pricing is volatile because these solutions are constantly evolving. For most business owners, the decision is best accomplished with the help of an expert.
Step Two: Layer Protection
Steve Epner, founder of the St. Louis-based IT consultancy Brown Smith Wallace, says that only the largest companies can typically afford every safeguard. However, he stresses that to not have an intelligent backup and storage system in the 21st century is courting disaster. He offers the following observations:
• Save backups in locations other than the facility where you work, so if anything happens to your facility, your backup data isn’t lost as well.
• Hackers range from disgruntled employees to strangers using software that systematically tests passwords until it gets into a system, so a proactive stance on access can protect you. At Epner’s company, employees change their password every 45 days, and must include upper and lowercase letters, at least one number and at least one special character.
• Portable, high-capacity thumb drives can be activated with a thumbprint, so only authorized users can access data.
• Remove the computer accounts and passwords of ex-employees. “No matter what the reason for termination, lock down their system during the termination review,” says Epner.
• In the future, companies may embrace “proximity cards” that log users out as soon as they’re eight feet away from their computer. This reduces exposure to viruses, hacking or other tampering as people step out to lunch or leave their workstation. The cards are currently in use mostly at government and banking facilities.
• “Raid arrays” use sophisticated algorithms to store data on three to five different drives, even at remote locations. This is also known as load sharing. If one drive fails, the data is stored elsewhere and readily accessible.
“The system notifies you, you put in a new drive, and it recreates the data,” says Epner. “You never lose a beat in processing. Obviously, businesses have to be a certain size to afford it, but it’s worthwhile because you can’t afford to be out of business. Some businesses can fall back on manual procedures, some can’t.”
• Fireproof vaults and cabinets will protect paper, but not magnetic tapes and disks. The concrete makeup of many fireproof cubicles are high in water content, and the resulting steam from the heat of a fire can destroy electronic media. “You need a special insert that’s totally waterproof and insulated,” says Epner.
Step Three: Finding
The Right Software
Mike Adams, group product marketing manager for Symantec’s NetBackup product line, Cupertino, Calif., says that the size of a company often dictates the level of backup and protection.
The NetBackup product is typically licensed to companies with 1,000 employees or more and backs up all systems and platforms with one central product, which saves time and money.
But it’s only one of many software products his company offers, including solutions for smaller “mom-and-pop-type” businesses.
Backups, he advises, can be done manually or at a certain time of day, usually after business hours since performing a full backup could slow down your network a bit.
“Most companies back up once a day,” says Adams. “In the world of backup, you have choices — a full backup for everything on the machine, and incrementals. The latter involves backing up only the information that’s changed, and then doing a full backup, say, on the weekend. That’s faster and uses fewer resources. ‘Road warriors with laptops,’” he adds, “can backup locally until they’re on the network.
“I’d make copies,” Adams continues. “I’d have a primary copy, secondary copy to store and a third copy to send to another location. Based on what you tell the software to do, bring the tapes back and reuse them. They run between $50 to $100 a piece. We’re seeing more ATA disks — the cost has come down, and they’re more attractive now.”
His company is also working to develop an e-mail archiving software to reduce the size of people’s mailboxes. “They can still see their e-mails,” he says, “but they’re actually stored elsewhere for cheaper.”
Software solutions to protect data are great — especially when you can program them yourself. When Ann Arbor Cleaning Supply Co., Ann Arbor, Mich., lost its digital data in 1982 to a virus, vice president David Smith decided he wasn’t going to be fooled again, and took it upon himself to learn how to program in COBOL — a computer coding system that can serve security needs. “I’m the captain of my own ship,” he says.
Today, he protects his company’s data by utilizing operating systems and software most hackers don’t care about breaking into, because they’re not broadly used anymore.
His backup system takes minimal time and costs little to maintain. It utilizes raid arrays, and nightly backups to tape.
“I have tape backups for each day of the week that are rewritten weekly,” Smith states. “It’s a redundant backup — three backups on concurrent days. I replace tapes every morning, push the button and stick the next one in. One tape can store a hundred megabytes. The largest amount of information I’d ever need to redo is one day — worst case scenario.”
Smith also protects his data, which runs in real time with payroll and general ledgers, by allowing access to critical personnel only.
The first of each year, he makes sure he has a backup of everything — inventory, commissions, customer information, invoices and accounts — prints out that data from the year, (what he calls “the Bible”) and then purges the system.
“It burns through half a box of computer paper,” he laughs, “but it gives a quick reference.”
Step Four: Archive Strategically
Storing data for day-to-day business backup and archiving are two different things in the IT world. Epner advises businesses to look for a records manager professional to tell you what to keep, for how long, and how to do it in the most cost-effective manner. “It’s time consuming, and the maintenance is expensive,” he explains.
Epner says that archiving is based on longevity, and that microfiche still serves as one of the best record-keeping mediums.
He says “new” materials can lose data if not properly cared for. Magnetic tape can start losing data in as little as three years, and CDs, if not stored well, can lose data in five to six years.
“One of the reasons I tell people they don’t need the archival-quality CD burners is that every five years you should read your data and convert it to the newest data,” says Epner. “Think about 8-track tapes — they’re incompatible with technology now.”
Document imaging is another archiving innovation. This technology takes a picture of your paper and stores it on a CD. You can scan the paper yourself with a feed-in scanner, or contract that service out.
New advancements in imaging allow users to assign key words for sorting and retrieving documents by order, file number, date received, amount due, company, etc.
Some companies even print barcodes on stickers to attach to the paper before it’s scanned. “After the project is closed,” says Epner, “you can shred the documents, which is the best kind of data protection around.”
Lauren Summerstone is a Madison, Wis.-based freelance writer.
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