The rise of shadow IT: Why IT administrators face risk data loss

Two of the biggest drivers behind data loss and possible data security challenges are technological progress and cost or resource restraints. Organisations are struggling to effectively manage corporate data in light of the rise of ‘shadow IT’, poorly implemented storage solutions and lack of employee know-how, all of which can contribute significantly to data loss. So what are the risks and how can IT departments mitigate against them?

The rise of shadow IT

Organisations’ security policies are not keeping up with employee technology use. Inexpensive data storage and an increasingly tech-savvy and mobile workforce, mean that IT teams are struggling to manage shadow IT – the IT systems and solutions built and used inside an organisation without organisational knowledge or approval.

As employees take it upon themselves to store business data outside of the corporate IT environment – on external hard drives, online email services, or even an off-the-record departmental NAS system – potentially critical data is not included in corporate backup and security practices, opening up the possibility of data loss.

To counter this risk, organisations should audit the use of IT solutions outside of company purview, maintain a register of all devices and external hard disks being utilised, and ensure these are included in the company’s security and backup protocols. Additionally, organisations can ensure that their data security policy outlines the parameters around including or excluding the use of external storage.

Poorly implemented server or storage solutions

Even the most advanced high-end storage solutions require human intelligence to manage them, which at times can result in malfunction or failure. While built-in recovery functionalities help protect against data loss, we have seen a rise in data recovery cases where IT storage equipment was not properly set up by a third-party service provider. This can lead to data loss when the recovery or rebuild functions do not work as way they should.

It’s important to ensure when selecting a third-party vendor that they are recommended or certified by the storage manufacturer. As part of system set up, it also helps to test to ensure the system is functioning properly, including the restore functions, and make sure internal administrators are fully trained on any new system requirements.

Knowledge gap

There is no doubt that managing today’s virtual IT environments and hyper-converged storage systems is complex and requires a very deep understanding of all the technologies behind these solutions. Small missteps can also have disproportionately large consequences; accidentally deleted data or disks removed in error can produce dangerous downstream data loss effects. Due to time and cost constraints, many companies lack an in-depth training program for their IT staff to fully understand and be able to effectively manage system nuances and procedures.

Considering the potential financial business continuity costs associated with enterprise data loss, companies should evaluate and invest in proper training and development of IT administrators responsible for handling server and storage systems storing sensitive and business critical data.

Top tips for success

In light of changing storage trends like shadow IT, today’s complex environments demand that IT teams have a good understanding of all the systems that support the business and the security protocols around the use of company devices.

It’s equally important for IT departments to work with their legal and information security teams to implement clear policies to manage data, and to invest in properly training IT personnel to provide the best chance of minimising data loss should an organisation experience a system challenge.

To ensure the best chance for an effective resolution, we recommend IT departments adhere to these best practice processes:

Avoid panicking and rushing to action

If data loss happens, do not restore data to the source volume from backup because this is where the data loss occurred in the first place. Do not create new data on the source volume, as it could be corrupt or damaged.

Be confident in skills and knowledge

IT staff must help leadership avoid making decisions that do more harm than good. When specifically faced with a possible data loss event, take the volume offline quickly. Data is being overwritten at a rapid pace, and the volume should not be formatted to resolve corruption.

Have a plan

Follow established ITIL processes and ensure data centre documentation is complete and revisited often to ensure it is up to date. In particular, do not run volume utilities (CHKDSK/FSCK) or update firmware during a data loss event.

Know the environment (and the data)

Understand what the storage environments can handle and how quickly it can recover. Know what data is critical or irreplaceable, whether it can be re-entered or replaced, and the costs for getting that data up and running to a point of satisfaction. Weigh the costs and risks when determining what is most urgent – getting systems up and running quickly or protecting the data that is there.

When in doubt, call a data recovery company

While the manufacture or vendor may be a good starting point, the value of data and the potential for data loss when getting a system backup and running may not be top of mind. Consult a reputable data recovery company if concerns over data loss potential arise.

Robin England, Senior Research and Development Engineer at Kroll Ontrack