Data is one of a company’s most valuable resources. Data loss can significantly affect a company’s health, market position, reputation and the wellbeing of its customers. Whether caused by security breaches, virus infection or issues with processing, data loss can cause significant damage and costs and require organizations to address them quickly.

Fortunately, many tools and resources can help us determine if data loss has happened and create a plan to avoid a recurrence. This article provides several tips on how we can deal with and recover from data loss, focusing on logging. 

What causes data loss?

Data loss has many causes and can happen both when data is at rest and when transmitted over a network. It can also occur intentionally or accidentally. A virus infection can delete data, and a cyberattack on a system can steal data. In addition to this, organizations can also experience data loss due to things like hardware impairments, natural disasters and power failures. Human error is the most common reason for data loss, as human beings are imperfect and prone to mistakes that often negatively affect data.

Failures that start within one system and then spread to another are called cascading failures. These failures can result in significant losses of data and heavy damage to systems because the failure no longer concentrates within a single spot.

Recovering from data loss

Take a deep breath and discontinue any action. It can be tempting to jump straight into fixing the problem, but take some time to assess what happened and consider the options for your organization.

Write down what happened in as much detail as possible. Here are some good questions for security leaders to ask themselves:

  • What specific data is your organization missing? 
  • What happened before the loss was discovered?  
  • Has any software been recently installed or updated or has your organization made any particular changes to the setup?
  • Has the organization onboarded a new employee?
  • Has the security team identified any recent vulnerabilities?
  • Has equipment been physically damaged (for example, water damage)?

Because the root cause of data loss varies, it’s essential to consider all the possibilities and determine whether the initial identified loss is isolated or part of a bigger problem.

Next, cybersecurity professionals must decide which data recovery method to use. In the case of hardware damage to machines or servers, it should still be possible to access data backups stored offsite or in the cloud. 

If IT has been creating regular backups and using cloud storage, your organization will be able to restore data from recent backups. Otherwise, security leaders will need to look at alternative methods like disk recovery.

We can use data recovery software to repair data files and databases. It can also assist in scenarios like accidental file deletion or incorrect server formatting. 

When dealing with sensitive data such as medical files or losing a large amount of essential data, it is advisable to consult data recovery engineers experienced with complex data retrieval. 

How to prevent data loss

Data loss prevention is a continuous process that must encompass the whole organization. Organizations must strive to stay aware of email phishing and ensure no one is pushing code with security-compromising bugs. Best practices a company can follow include malware protection, strong password policies, firewalls, ongoing risk assessment and file integrity monitoring. 

The most effective data loss strategies are part of the larger business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plan. This plan is a regularly updated document that sets out the tasks and responsibilities that need to be undertaken (and by whom) in an incident such as the loss of critical data. It aims to reduce the financial impact of the failure; assist the company in complying with any industry regulations in the case of data loss; and empower a company to respond to the situation in a way that allows them to resume operations as soon as possible.

Data backup

The 3-2-1 rule is the gold standard of business data backup, meaning that companies have three copies of their data stores in two different formats that are easy to access. One of these copies is stored off-site to prevent the risk of data loss from physical destruction or theft. For less critical data, you might consider cost-effective but (very) slow options like S3 Glacier Deep Archive.

Organizations must regularly verify any backups to ensure that backup data is updated and functional. 

The importance of data logging

If we ever do lose data, aggregated logs are crucial in finding out why the data loss happened to prevent any further losses. Many industries require businesses to use log archiving and log analysis to comply with industry regulations.

Your organization must configure a log aggregator or reporter to suit your use cases and infrastructure. Security teams can do this with an agent in your containers, Kubernetes, as part of your application code or redirect standard logging to an external service or provider. You can also configure an aggregator to pull in data from all systems, including:

  • CI/CD pipelines 
  • Cloud infrastructure (VMs, load balancers, databases, etc.) 
  • Platforms like Kubernetes
  • Applications 
  • Microservices

Data loss often results from cascading failures that start in one system and then cause failures in other parts of your infrastructure, ultimately causing data loss. Log aggregation allows you to trace the problem back to its source and resolve it.

Centralized log aggregation and management provide a means to organize the data within an IT infrastructure and enable users to view the health of the data across all systems and applications. Many logging platforms offer an alternative to static reporting by flagging anomalies through real-time alerts. For example, a repeated password failure might indicate an unauthorized attempt to access a network, or it might mean someone has not memorized the password. If a team has set up an alert for multiple failed password attempts, the system will notify them. They can also flag scenarios like write failures, misconfigured storage and incompatible formats.

Log aggregation also lends itself well to microservices environments where each service, container instance and orchestration tool produces logs. It’s challenging to monitor and analyze bugs, shifts in user conduct, unusual behaviors or security vulnerabilities without the central real-time access that logs can provide. Logging helps you figure out how exactly data loss occurs.

No one wants to deal with the problem of data loss. Fortunately, logs can provide us with the means to identify issues in real-time, making it easier to solve and prevent the recurrence of these losses. If and when data loss does happen, logs give us a place to begin. We then know where to focus our attention based on facts, numbers and real-time observations. It makes us less likely to respond from a place of panic because we likely have already seen and identified the trend leading to a loss, breach or failure. Logging provides cybersecurity teams with a factual record of what has occurred so they can prioritize responses accordingly.