What Is Data Corruption?

Data corruption refers to unwanted changes or errors in computer data during writing, reading, storage, processing, or transmission. Unlike simple data loss, corrupted data can negatively impact your device or network, from a computer slowing down or freezing to sudden program crashes.

Data corruption is often confused with dirty data, as these both fall under data integrity. However, data corruption occurs when a file mixes its binary code and makes the file unreadable. Dirty data, on the other hand, describes any piece of data that is inaccurate or redundant. As such, a corrupted file can be considered “dirty” but cannot be remediated through simple fixes, such as changing the file name or removing redundant entries.

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Types of data corruption

  • Physical corruption. This occurs when hardware gets damaged or deteriorated. A compromised device may cause data to become illegible and inaccessible, which could lead to data loss or mistakes.
  • Logical corruption. This occurs when losses are caused on the software side due to software defects, viruses, malware, or similar conditions.

Causes of data corruption

Cybersecurity threats

Malware, specifically ransomware, can corrupt data to disrupt business operations and gain a financial reward. These cyberattacks can encrypt, delete, or modify data, making it inaccessible or useless.

Why you need to be concerned

A new trend in ransomware is data corruption. Cybercriminals are now using sophisticated ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) kits to perform double-extortion attacks, in which threat actors get paid twice: once to remove the ransomware and once to delete any retrieved files or data from being sold in the black market.

One of the most concerning RaaSs to be aware of is the new data exfiltration malware by ALPHV Blackcat ransomware. Unlike other RaaSs that simply extract files from the victim’s device, Blackcat corrupts the data and keeps all revenue from the ransom, making it impossible for victims to retrieve their data.

The dangers of Blackcat should not be underestimated! Even today, many industries and large organizations are being affected and losing millions of dollars. The most recent one was with the UnitedHealth Group (UHG), which admitted to a Blackcat ransomware attack. While the exact amount was not disclosed, it’s believed that the group secretly paid upwards of $22 million to the group, which prompted US senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to issue a notification letter for UHG to notify all affected patients and providers.

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Human error

Human error is one of the leading factors of cybersecurity risks and may also cause data corruption. Accidental actions, such as deleting a file or incorrectly entering a data entry, can result in data corruption.

Why you need to be concerned

Humans make mistakes, which can sometimes have significant financial and business impacts. For example, in January 2023, human error grounded all commercial flights in the US for an hour and a half. This led to nearly 11,000 delays and almost 3,000 cancellations. While it is impossible to eliminate this risk completely, there are many ways to mitigate it, including regular employee training and creating various fail-safes to ensure that there are always data auditors.

Network issue

Data corruption can occur when transmission errors or unreliable connections occur. These issues can disrupt the accurate delivery of data, which may become inaccessible.

Why you need to be concerned

Experts have seen an increase in internet disruptions in the last few years. A report by Cloudflare found that the number of internet disruptions has caused a wide variety of technical problems, from data corruption to an increased risk of cyberattacks. In addition, network issues, such as data outages, have a financial cost. According to the 2023 Uptime Institute data center survey, data outages cost more than $100,000, with 16% stating that their most recent outage cost more than $1 million.

Software bugs or failures

Sometimes, even legitimate software can have bugs and glitches that can inadvertently damage or corrupt data.

Why you need to be concerned

Software bugs can cause a lot of disruption, apart from data corruption, in your organization. From Volvo recalling its EX30 cars due to a software glitch to the NYSE accidentally showing Berkshire trades at a 99% discount, software glitches are pervasive even today. They can target any business across all industries.

Inadequate backup and recovery

While not necessarily a direct cause, an inadequate backup and disaster recovery plan increases the risk of losing data once it is corrupted. Ideally, you should work with an IT management provider, like NinjaOne, that offers business backup software that helps you easily meet your data protection, cost, and RTO objectives.

Signs of corrupted data

Be aware of a few indicators of data corruption:

  • Your computer slows down or regularly freezes.
  • You experience regular software crashes, especially when working with certain files or documents.
  • You cannot open a folder or file.
  • You notice that the names of files or folders have changed to gibberish characters.
  • You notice that file details and attributes have changed (e.g., file type changes, missing creation date, etc.)

Preventing data corruption

It’s worth noting that there is no way to completely maintain data integrity. However, there are strategies you can use today to mitigate the risk of data corruption.

  • Perform regular backups to ensure your data is protected in the event of corruption.
  • Invest in reliable software and hardware.
  • Implement regular and automated patch management.
  • Have data auditors to perform data validation routines and prevent dirty data.
  • Secure data with encryption protocols.
  • Use robust antivirus software.
  • Learn to recognize phishing emails and content.

How NinjaOne prevents data corruption

NinjaOne’s patch management tool helps prevent data corruption, enabling you to identify, evaluate, and deploy patches to any device without needing an infrastructure or VPN.

If you’re ready, request a free quote, sign up for a 14-day free trial, or watch a demo.

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