And the moral of this story is: Encrypt your backup data. That way, when your data storage vendor loses your tapes, you still have a reasonable defense mechanism in place.
All those whose personal data has been lost will sleep better and youll look like a pretty smart person as you collect the big bonus from a grateful CEO.
You need to do this because if you work at a big company and your tapes disappear, its going to make news.
Just ask Time Warner, which this week lost 40 backup tapes destined for one of Iron Mountains big storage facilities, described on the companys Web site as being “supremely secure” from “natural or human threat.”
Heres how the Web site describes the tape vaulting service:
“To keep your data safe, when and where you need it, rigorously screened, trained staff manage Iron Mountains supremely secure vaults and transport your tapes in equally secure, environmentally controlled vehicles.”
Whoops! Somehow at the conclusion of the days pickups, the Time Warner tapes could not be found anywhere in the secure, environmentally controlled vehicle they were supposed to be securely residing in.
Apparently, one of the companys rigorously screened, trained staff members had lost them.
That is to say, lost tapes containing an estimated 600,000 Social Security numbers and other identifying information, according to published accounts. (I hope the training includes weapons practice if this is what these drivers are routinely hauling around).
Note: Content in next paragraph could possibly be offensive to easily offended, humorless readers.
I love the quote the spokeswoman for Iron Mountain offered when asked about the loss: “It happens.” Had it been me, the quote might have had two more letters up front, but Im from Texas.
My version would also carry a little bit of resignation that some mistakes just arent preventable.
Not by mere humans, anyway. Even rigorously screened, trained ones.
And thats the point: Iron Mountain says it makes 5 million tape pickups each year, though it will be fewer if they keep losing them.
So far this year, the company says there have been five incidents of lost tapes.
Thats probably about as good a record and youre likely to achieve, though I bet Iron Mountain hopes to do better. If only to stay out of the news.
A Disturbing Development
Speaking of which, did you ever think youd see the loss of a few backup tapes making national news?
Sure, if the tapes contained nuclear launch codes, but some personnel record backups that were more likely lost than stolen?
Now, its good we hear about such things, and I support the mandatory disclosure laws designed to protect consumers when their data is lost or stolen.
(The fact that weve come to this is disturbing on many levels. It says something about our reliance on technology and the vulnerabilities it creates that I dont like one bit. But, I digress…)
After the fourth tape loss, Iron Mountain late last month advised customers that encryption was necessary to protect sensitive backup data, even when left in its “supremely secure” hands.
I am not sure why this should surprise anyone, though I saw a survey that said only 7 percent of companies routinely encrypt their backup data.
To me, that number seems low by about 93 percentage points.
On the other hand, encryption can be a real pain, and if youre handing your tapes to a rigorously screened, trained staffer, why worry?
Now, theres no reason—thus far—to believe any of this data has fallen into bad hands.
There are many places these backups could wind up that arent on the drives of a Romanian identity theft gang.
All we have right now is an embarrassing situation that inconveniences, apparently, everyone who has worked for Time Warner in the past decade, as well as their dependents.
If your tapes get lost, dont you want your CEO to tell the world they used strong encryption?
Sure you would, so the moral of this story is: Well, you already know.
Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers.