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Erase all: Vic Uni accidentally wipes users hard drives

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 18 March 2021, 9:25 am

It started out as the IT department's plan to tidy the house and remove the digital detritus of inactive users from Victoria University's desktop computers.

But last Friday's "routine maintenance" went awry, with staff and students having the data on their desktop computer hard drives erased. Network storage drives H: and M: were intact, as well as the university's OneDrive cloud storage system.

But for researchers and students keeping masses of data on their computers, a requirement for some using software to run experiments and data analysis, the email that was sent out by the digital solutions team on Sunday would have left them in a cold sweat.

"Maintenance to clear disk space may have deleted some files and changed some settings it should not have," the ominous email read, according to Critic, the University of Otago's student magazine.

Where's my PhD?

Then the floodgates opened, as the IT helpdesk line was slammed with calls from students and staff who had logged onto their computer to find their files missing. By yesterday, the harried digital solutions team were clearly dealing with some panicked computer users.

"If you've lost REALLY critical files - ie your entire Phd, or lecture notes for an entire course, or irreplaceable research data reply to this email and let me know, and I'll escalate it to the client tech team," another email update read, according to Critic.

It is still unclear how many staff and students were affected by the data erasure, but with desktop hard drives "fully protected" ie: regularly backed up, it is likely the data can be restored - eventually. 

Staff were told not to use their computers where the files were saved while a data recovery effort was undertaken. That is still underway.

Watching on from the University of Auckland, physicist Professor Richard Easther probably reflected the position of a lot of academics when he tweeted:

Screenshot 2021-03-18 at 9.11.19 AM.png

According to US data recovery specialist Kroll Ontrack, the top 10 causes of lost data include:

1. Human Error

2. Viruses &Malware

3. Hard Drive Damage

4. Power Outages

5. Computer Theft

6. Liquid Damage

7. Disasters

8. Software Corruption

9. Hard Drive Formatting

10. Hackers and Insiders

Regular data back-ups are best-practice in organisations large and small, but according to Kroll Ontrack's Paul Le Messurier, 

"Typical situations that we tend to see are when organisations get a replacement server from their hardware supplier and attempt to restore data from backups - only to discover that the backups had not been made regularly or had failed completely," he told Tech Radar

"This is why regular testing of backups is essential as part of disaster recovery planning activities."

Here's hoping my alma mater Vic Uni has been on top of its data back-up game. 


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