Common Threat to Data Loss: Human Error

By VaultTek | March 14, 2024

In today’s digital age, data is one of an organization’s most valuable assets, driving decision-making, innovation, and competitive advantage. And while things like ransomware, malware, and hardware failures receive more media attention, one of the six most common threats to data integrity is human error.

Common Human Errors Leading to Data Loss

Whether it’s a misplaced keystroke, accidental file deletion, or failure to follow protocol, human error can have devastating consequences, leading to data loss and compromising sensitive information. These are a few of the most commonly reported human errors:

  1. Accidental Deletion: This is perhaps one of the most common forms of human error leading to data loss. Whether it’s deleting the wrong file or inadvertently formatting a storage device, simple mistakes can result in an irretrievable loss of data.
  2. Misconfiguration: Improperly configuring systems or settings can leave critical data vulnerable to unauthorized access or accidental deletion. Misconfigurations in cloud services, databases, or network infrastructure can have far-reaching consequences.
  3. Phishing Attacks: While phishing attacks are often initiated by external actors, human error plays a significant role in their success. Clicking on malicious links or providing login credentials in response to phishing emails can lead to data breaches and loss.
  4. Negligence: Negligent behavior such as leaving sensitive information unattended, using weak passwords, or failing to adhere to security protocols can create opportunities for data loss or unauthorized access.
  5. Insider Threats: Employees or insiders with malicious intent pose a significant risk to data security. Whether it’s intentionally leaking confidential information or sabotage, insider threats can result in substantial data loss and damage to the organization.

Statistics on Data Loss Due to Human Error

The consequences of human error include lost productivity, data exposure, unbudgeted costs, and even disruption to a wide variety of workflows. The impact of human error on data loss is often hard to determine as reporting is often delayed or underreported due to the reluctance of people to self-report errors, but some recent statistics show the disruption and costs associated with this form of data loss:

  1. Leading Cause Globally: According to a report by the Ponemon Institute, human error is the leading cause of data breaches, accounting for 24% of incidents globally.
  2. Almost 1 in 4: Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) indicated that 22% of data breaches in 2020 involved errors such as misdelivery, misconfiguration, or unintended disclosure.
  3. Average Dollar Cost: IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report found that the average cost of a data breach caused by human error is $3.33 million.
  4. 2025 $5 Trillion Price Tag: The Cybersecurity Ventures 2021 Annual Report projected that by 2025, the annual cost of data breaches caused by human error will exceed $5 trillion globally.

Recent News Story: Sensitive Data Exposure Due to Human Error

A Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) data breach occurred due to misassigned permissions when an employee committed an error that subsequently affected the state’s Teacher Information Management System (TIMS). The incident temporarily enabled individuals who logged into TIMS to access personal information belonging to other users including teachers, school districts and Department of Education staff. In all, the security event is believed to have affected as many as 360,000 current and retired teachers.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Education (PDE) subsequently sent out notice letters informing victims that the incident might have exposed their personal information including their Social Security Numbers. It also offered a free one-year subscription for credit monitoring and identity protection services to affected individuals. The result was a massive blow to the perception and integrity of PDE and a hefty bill of more than $600,000 to cover credit monitoring for those affected by the exposure.

Preventative Measures to Avoid Data Loss Due to Human Error

While transforming a company’s culture to mitigate common data threats may take time, here are some actions that can be set in motion right away.

  • Start with Simple Searches: Missing files are one of the most reported issues due to human error. With the tap of the keyboard, or a swipe of the mouse, files are accidentally deleted or overwritten. In other cases, files are unknowingly saved to another location or moved accidentally in File Explorer. For instance, it is easy to inadvertently move an entire folder into another folder leading the user to believe the data is gone when it is really just hidden. Simple searches like checking the recycle bin, doing a quick file search, or retrieving an earlier version of a file often mitigate the issues quickly with no damage to the data.
  • Employee Training and Awareness: When simple searches yield no results, one of the most important things every employee should know is who to call in the event of an error. You also want to make sure employees understand the necessity to report the error promptly to mitigate any potential damage as soon as possible. Implement comprehensive training programs to educate employees about cybersecurity best practices, including how to identify phishing attempts, handle sensitive information securely, and follow established protocols.
  • Access Control and Monitoring: Implement strict access controls to limit employee access to sensitive data based on job roles and responsibilities. Monitor and audit user activities to detect and prevent unauthorized access or suspicious behavior.
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Policies: Deploy DLPs to monitor and enforce policies governing the handling of sensitive data. Implement automated controls to prevent unauthorized sharing or leakage of confidential information.
  • Strong Authentication and Authorization: Enforce the use of strong passwords, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and role-based access controls to authenticate users and restrict access to sensitive systems and data.
  • Regular Security Audits and Assessments: Conduct regular security audits and risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities and areas for improvement. Address any identified gaps or weaknesses promptly to mitigate the risk of data loss.
  • Data Backup: Regularly back up your data to an offsite location or cloud storage. This ensures that even if hardware fails, your data remains secure and accessible.

    The best practice 3-2-1 backup method of data protection multiplies the number of backups you keep and expands the number of locations where your digital record backups are stored. The rule states that you should have:

    • 3 – At least three copies of your data
    • 2 – Two of the backups should be stored on different types of media
    • 1 – And at least one backup should be stored offsite or in the cloud

    When it comes to data storage there is an oft-quoted adage that “Any data not stored in at least three distinct locations ought to be considered temporary.”  Though the origin of the sentiment isn’t known, the spirit of it is the same premise as the 3-2-1 backup rule’s objective to have redundant backups in multiple places if any one backup fails or is compromised.

Backup and Recovery Solutions for When Human Errors Occur

Maintaining strong backup and recovery solutions is essential in protecting valuable data from hardware failures. Regularly backing up your data ensures that you won’t lose everything in case of an attack or mistake. This means choosing the right backup solution for you and testing it regularly to ensure quick data restoration. It’s also crucial to have a solid plan in place for disaster recovery. Building a proactive backup strategy sometimes requires adjustments to fit the needs of your organization and the records you want to protect. Strategic suggestions for a successful plan include:

  • Different Devices: If copies are kept on the same system or hardware device and there is damage or worse, both copies are at risk of data loss. For increased digital records protection, keep backup copies on separate devices that are not connected through a shared system.
  • Ease of Use: Data backup should be simple, secure, and efficient.
  • Offline Copy: One copy of your data backup should be secured offline as a protective measure against ransomware or other malware event.
  • Off-site/Geographic Locations: Should a disaster impact your on-site location or region, backups stored within or near the same locality increases the risk of all sets of digital records being compromised. Utilizing diverse geographic locations for off-site backups mitigates locality risks and provides even more layers of protection.
  • Proactive Planning: Having a crisis response plan in place empowers you to act decisively and recover quicker.
  • Security: Security should be embedded into your backup process, helping to ensure protection from attackers at every stage.
  • Speed to Recovery: To increase your data protection further, have an onsite backup system as your first layer of records protection and the quickest data recovery when needed.

Proactive Data Protection Against Common Threats for Faster Recovery

It’s not if a disaster may strike, it’s when. Cyber threats, natural threats, data corruption, hardware malfunctions, improper storage, human error, and more, all test our data protection strategies. Things you didn’t even know could happen, occur every day.

By utilizing a data protection solution that combines the benefits of secure automated processes, redundant data storage and proactive daily monitoring services, the risk of data loss due to human error can be significantly reduced.

At VaultTek, our vault-tight data protection solution is founded on the principles of the 3-2-1 backup rule. We provide a triple-redundant backup system with three layers of defense: one on-site backup utilizing our Tekmate, a purpose-built backup appliance configured for your location and two additional off-site backups saved at separate and uniquely geographic U.S.-based data centers.

Our proven data protection services combined with our personalized and accessible support empower you with confidence that your data is secure and ready when you need it.