20 Causes of Data Loss Threatening Businesses in 2024
Data Loss Prevention

20 Causes of Data Loss Threatening Businesses in 2024

Data is not just a strategic asset. It’s the lifeblood of your organization. Losing access to any strategic asset can threaten an organization’s viability; without plants and equipment, manufacturers would find it difficult to succeed, and service providers can’t operate without brand recognition. Similarly, without data, your organization could be left in a state of complete and utter paralysis, unable to function or recover. 

Like the security of other strategic assets, data loss prevention is not a reactive measure but a critical function that organizations must proactively address. By taking the initiative and implementing effective data loss prevention strategies, you can assert control over your data’s security and ensure the continuity of your operations.

What Is Data Loss?

Data loss occurs whenever an individual, organization, or agency cannot retrieve, move, or process its digitally stored information. Robust data loss prevention tools track user activity, thwart malicious insiders, and prevent fraud, keeping data safe.

20 Causes of Data Loss and How To Prevent Them

Three primary causes of data loss are insufficient backup, insider error, or malicious action. However, the potential causes are extensive, including third-party vendor failure, insider threats, and lost or non-returned equipment. It’s crucial to be aware of these potential risks to prevent the devastating loss of strategic data-based assets.

1. Hardware failure

Hardware failure causes unplanned downtime. Common causes include temperature spikes, insufficient ventilation, and use outside the specified battery and capacity parameters. For example, if an endpoint terminal, which refers to a device that serves as an entry point into a network, fails, any data stored locally on the machine that isn’t backed up may be permanently lost.

2. Network hardware failure

Servers and other network hardware are susceptible to the same hardware failure caused by endpoint terminals, but the consequences can be much more severe. Information stored on network equipment may become permanently inaccessible during hardware failure.

3. Hard drive failure

Whether consumer or enterprise-grade, hard drives can only be expected to last about three years. When a hard drive fails from physical damage or a hardware malfunction, data recovery tools may be unable to retrieve the missing data.

4. Operating system crashes

Accessing the data stored on a device is only possible with a functional operating system. Data recovery software can help. Another option is to remove the hard drive and access the data on another machine.

5. Software errors and crashes

Most businesses rely on multiple software solutions to operate. Errors and crashes can corrupt files, making preserving an up-to-date, non-corrupted backup of the software and company files essential. Without careful oversight of the various backup configurations and scheduling processes, it’s possible to lose days, weeks, or even months of data due to a single crash.

6. Fire

Fifty-one organizations lost data when a fire struck a data center in Strasbourg. Many lost everything because backups were stored in the exact location of the main servers. While fireproof external drives are available to back up the most critical data, this is not a practical enterprise-wide solution.

7. Flood

Flooding can occur due to severe weather, rupture of water delivery systems, or even a faulty sprinkler system. Endpoint and network equipment damaged by flooding are unlikely to preserve the data they contain. A short-term shift to remote working or personal devices while flood damage is being repaired carries the additional risk of compromised security.

8. Power Outages

Power outages can trigger improper shutdown procedures, often leading to the loss of work in progress. A power outage can also cause operating system and software crashes, increasing the likelihood of data loss.

9. Accidentally Deleted Files

One of the easiest ways for an organization to lose data is through accidental deletion. Confusion about file versions or even a few unintentional keystrokes by a well-intentioned employee can leave organizations without access to vital data. If the Recycling Bin or Trash has already been emptied, data recovery software is the only option to retrieve the accidentally deleted information.

10. Improperly Installed or Removed Programs

A well-intentioned but uninformed user may attempt to install new programs on their terminal or remove programs they believe are unnecessary or disadvantageous. If the security settings permit these alterations to be made at the user level, valuable data may be lost or overwritten.

11. Spills

Even a tiny amount of liquid can permanently disable electronic equipment, rendering the data inside inaccessible. Recovery may or may not be possible, but it will likely be time-consuming and resource-intensive.

12. Improper Drive Formatting

Common causes of severe data loss due to improper drive formatting include formatting the incorrect drive or selecting an inappropriate file system during the formatting process.

13. Misconfigured Servers

Servers or web applications not correctly configured due to insider error are vulnerable to penetration by outside actors. While server misconfiguration does not lead directly to data loss, it makes accessing and retrieving data easier for malicious actors.

14. Viruses/Malware

Malicious software and viruses can be configured to wreak havoc inside an organization’s network, including copying, exfiltrating, and deleting critical files.

15. Ransomware

Ransomware attackers use malicious software to seize and encrypt data, holding it hostage until a specified sum is paid. Upon receipt of payment, a decryption key is provided, and access to the lost data is restored.

16. Credential Theft

Malicious actors use many tactics, including social engineering techniques like phishing campaigns, to access an organization’s network. Once inside, data loss occurs when attackers delete, change, or otherwise compromise the integrity of sensitive or protected information.

17. SQL Injection

SQL databases are attractive targets for malicious actors, as they typically contain high-value information. In SQL injection attacks, malicious code is introduced to the database through user-supplied input. In this way, attackers can gain complete control of the data, altering it, tampering with it, or destroying it according to their goals.

18. Zero-day vulnerabilities

No software application, firmware, or operating system is perfect, and hackers spend considerable time and energy looking for vulnerabilities to exploit. Developers are quick to release patches for software applications, firmware, and operating systems once threats are identified, but critical data deletion or theft may have already occurred by that time.

19. SaaS Vendor Bankruptcy

Organizations generally rely on third-party-provided software to conduct daily business activities. Loss of access to this software, as in the case of vendor bankruptcy, can bring business grinding to a halt.

20. Lost or Non-Returned Assets

25% of employees have lost technological assets related to their workplace, ranging from smaller items like mobile phones and USB memory devices to more significant equipment like tablets and laptops. Any locally stored data is permanently lost when these work devices are not returned.

Types of Data Loss

The best data loss prevention tools can be configured to prevent different types of data loss, protect data loss from endpoint devices, network data loss, and data loss related to cloud-based actions.

Endpoint Data Loss

Endpoint data loss refers to information lost from activity on a device, or endpoint, connected to the network. Endpoints include mobile phones, tablets, laptops, servers, and IoT devices. 

Locally saved files may become inaccessible if the device is lost, stolen, faulty, or accessed unauthorized during an attack.

Organizations prevent endpoint data loss with software solutions that feature comprehensive endpoint monitoring rooted in user behavior analytics, continuous backup capabilities, and automatic blockage of risky actions.

Network Data Loss

Network data loss occurs when information is inappropriately shared or moved outside the organizational system. A secure network is critical to any functioning enterprise. Still, it becomes essential in highly regulated industries, where companies and agencies may be asked to prove their compliance with data protection legislation and regulation or face heavy penalties.

Network data loss protection solutions prevent this type of data loss by monitoring and protecting the network itself. These tools provide perimeter protection that prevents data from leaving the network. Additionally, networks can be further protected with tools that detect potential policy violations, track and log user activity, and block suspicious file transfers.

Cloud Data Loss

A shift from traditional data storage solutions to cloud-based offerings is currently underway. Enterprise IT spending on cloud computing technology is poised to overtake conventional offerings by 30% in 2024. With more data being transferred to and stored in the cloud, the opportunities for data loss increase.

Encryption protects data as it is transferred between local machines and the cloud at rest. Data classification can place higher protection standards around an organization’s most critical data.

How To Prevent Data Loss

Organizations and individuals can take several measures to prevent catastrophic data loss. Here are some effective strategies:

1. Follow best practices for backing up data

Make backups frequently and regularly, and ensure they are stored separately from the original data.

2. Adopt a zero-trust model

Eliminating inherent trust from the authentication process and requiring ongoing authorization reinforces data security and insulates the organization against risk.

3. Choose a full-featured data loss prevention (DLP) solution

Look for tools that monitor messaging and file activity, preventing data movement or accidental deletion. The software should also monitor the activity of contractors and vendors signed into the server and have an automatic lock-out function to shut down high-risk activities.

Screen capture or recording capabilities are helpful during an investigation or audit.

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4. Secure the network

To prevent data loss at the network level, control access to files with role-based permissions, maintain firewalls and deploy antivirus software.

5. Discover, classify, and protect data in the cloud

Choose a data loss prevention product that uses content discovery, digital inspection, and contextual analysis to identify and categorize sensitive data wherever it’s located.

6. Invest in relevant training

In some industries, relevant data protection education is required for all employees responsible for maintaining data security. While human error can never be eliminated, minimizing mistakes is a worthy investment.

7. Plan for lost assets

Invest in technology that can track and remotely wipe missing equipment to prevent data on these devices from being accessed by unauthorized parties. Regular cloud back-ups will help avoid the costly recreation of data lost with the device.

8. Prepare for vendor failure

SaaS escrow agreements ensure that the application’s source code, runtime files, and any data deposits remain accessible to the organization that purchased them, even in the event of vendor bankruptcy. Maintain database replicas and choose products that save data locally in case of a connectivity/downtime issue.

Data Loss vs. Data Breach

While data loss is sometimes used as a synonym for a data breach, the two terms refer to distinct phenomena that only sometimes overlap.

A data breach involves inappropriate access to sensitive or protected information. Some data breaches involve short-term data loss, as in the case of ransomware. In these attacks, the perpetrator may hold data hostage in the short term, restoring access upon payment of a specified sum. However, the organization must grapple with the consequences of permanent data loss if the ransom is not paid.

Data loss can occur without a breach if no sensitive or private information has been exposed. One typical example of data loss without breach is the accidental deletion of files.


What is the most common cause of data loss?

The most common cause of data loss is human error, such as accidentally deleting files or formatting storage devices. Other common causes include hardware failure, malware attacks, and natural disasters. It is crucial to implement data backup and recovery strategies to mitigate the risks of data loss.

What are the sources of data loss?

Human error, hardware failure, malware attacks, or natural disasters can cause data loss. To protect against these potential causes, it is essential to implement data backup and recovery strategies.

Why did I lose data?

You may have lost data for various reasons, such as human error, hardware failure, malware attacks, or natural disasters. Implementing data backup and recovery strategies can help protect against these potential causes of data loss and limit its impact.

How do I stop my computer from losing data?

To prevent your computer from losing data, it is important to regularly back up your files and ensure you have reliable antivirus software installed to protect against malware attacks. Additionally, be cautious with your actions on the computer to minimize the risk of accidental deletion or formatting of storage devices.

What are three reasons for the loss of data on a computer?

Human error, hardware failure, and malware attacks are three reasons for data loss on a computer. Implementing data backup strategies, maintaining hardware health, and using reliable antivirus software can help mitigate these risks.


The threat of data loss is ever present, and the consequences of losing data continue to grow. The average data breach cost in the United States is $9.44 million, and one minute of network downtime costs, on average.

Robust data loss prevention begins by establishing replication protocols and arranging for backup storage and maintenance. Further protection requires advanced, reliable data security software. The best protection comes from products that include automation, such as automatic incident response and activity blocking. Advanced data protection solutions, too, use behavioral analytics to detect and score anomalous behaviors that could lead to data loss.

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