Common Causes Of Data Loss Threatening Businesses Today
Data Loss Prevention

Common Causes Of Data Loss Threatening Businesses Today

Data is a strategic asset – one of the most valuable things a company can own. Losing access to any strategic asset can threaten the viability of an organization; without plants and equipment, manufacturers would find it difficult to succeed, and service providers can’t operate without brand recognition. Data loss protection, like the security of other strategic assets, is a critical function that no organization can afford to neglect.

What Is Data Loss? 

Data is information that has been converted into binary digital form for ease and efficiency of access and transfer. Data loss occurs whenever an individual, organization, or agency is unable to retrieve, move or process their digitally-stored information. Robust data loss protection tools track user activity, thwart malicious insiders, and prevent fraud, keeping data safe. 

Data Loss vs Data Breach

While data loss is sometimes used as a synonym for 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. If the ransom is not paid, however, the organization must grapple with the consequences of permanent data loss. 

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

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 the activity happening on a device, or endpoint, connected to the network. Endpoints include not only mobile phones, tablets, and laptops, but also servers and IoT devices. Locally saved files may become inaccessible if the device is lost, stolen, faulty or accessed in an unauthorized manner during an attack.

Organizations prevent endpoint data loss with software solutions that feature c xoomprehensive endpoint monitoring rooted in user behavior analytics, continuous back-up capabilities, and automatic blockage of risky actions. 

Network Data Loss

Network data loss occurs when information is inappropriately shared or moved outside of the organizational system. A secure network is critical to any functioning enterprise, but becomes particularly important in highly-regulated industries, as 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 fro 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 expenditures on traditional offerings by 2025. With more data being transferred to and stored in the cloud, the opportunities for data loss increase. 

Encryption is used to protect data as it is transferred between local machines and the cloud, as well as while the data is at rest. Data classification can be used to place higher standards of protection around an organization’s most critical data.

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20 Causes of Data Loss and How To Prevent Them

There are three primary causes of data loss; insufficient backup, insider error, or malicious action. Other causes of data loss include third-party vendor failure and lost or non-returned equipment. 

The devastating loss of strategic data-based assets has a variety of causes.

Data Loss Caused by Insufficient Backup (#1-8)

1. Hardware failure

Hardware failure is responsible for 45% of unplanned downtime. Common causes of hardware failure include temperature spikes, insufficient ventilation and use outside the specified battery and capacity parameters. If an endpoint terminal fails, for example, 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 causes of hardware failure as endpoint terminals, but the consequences can be much more severe. Information stored on network equipment may become permanently inaccessible in the event of hardware failure.

3. Hard drive failure 

Hard drives, whether consumer or enterprise-grade, can only be expected to last about three years. When a hard drive fails, data recovery tools may or may not be able to retrieve the missing data. 

4. Operating system crashes 

Without a functional operating system, it is not possible to access the data stored on a device. Data recovery software may be able to help. Another option is removing the hard drive and accessing 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 it essential to preserve an up-to-date, non-corrupted backup of the software and company files. 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

51 organizations lost data when a fire struck a data center in Strasbourg. Because backups were stored in the same location as the main servers, many lost everything. While fireproof external drives are available for the backup of 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, which often lead to the loss of work in progress. A power outage can also cause operating system and software crashes, increasing the likelihood of data loss.

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Data Loss From Insider Threats (#9-13)

The following causes of data loss can be prevented or mitigated by monitoring, tracking, and limiting access to data based on internal and external policies. 

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 accidental 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 to be unnecessary or disadvantageous. If the security settings permit these alterations to be made at the user level, valuable data may be lost or overwritten in the process. 

11. Spills

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

12. Improper Drive Formatting

Common causes of serious 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 that are 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 access and retrieval of data easier for malicious actors. 

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Malicious Actions Cause Data Loss (#14-18)

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 gain access to 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 application, firmware, and operating systems once threats are identified, but by the time that happens, deletion or theft of critical data may have already occurred.  

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Other Causes of Data Loss (#19-20)

Not all causes of data loss fit neatly into the above categories. 

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 larger equipment like tablets and laptops. Any locally stored data is permanently lost when these work devices are not returned. 

How To Prevent Data Loss

1. Follow best practices for backing up data. 

Make backups frequently and regularly, and ensure they are stored in a separate location 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 solution. 

  1. Look for tools that monitor messaging and file activity, preventing the movement or accidental deletion of data. 
  2. The software should also monitor the activity of contractors and vendors signed into the server, and have an automatic lock-out function enabled to shut down high-risk activities.
  3. Screen capture or recording capabilities are helpful in the event of an investigation or audit. 

4. Secure the network. 

Prevent data loss at the network level by controlling access to files with role-based permissions, maintaining firewalls, and deploying 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 the security of data. While human error can never be completely 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 contained 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 source code and runtime files for the application, as well as 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 the event of a connectivity/downtime issue. 


The threat of data loss is ever present and the consequences of losing data continue to grow. The average cost of a data breach in the United States is $9.44 million, and one minute of network downtime costs, on average, $5,600. Then, ransomware attacks increased by 92.7% between 2020 and 2021. 

Robust data loss prevention begins by establishing replication protocols and arranging for storage and maintenance of backups. 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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