Keep on truckin' your back-up tapes? You've got to be kidding!

Last week, Time Warner announced that the personal records of 600,000 present and former employees were misplaced on March 22 when the back-up tapes that contained the information were being shipped to their off-site data repository. The tapes disappeared from the truck that was transporting them to off-site data storage company Iron Mountain.

Also in March, Bank of America disclosed that in February, it lost digital tapes containing records of the credit card accounts of 1.2 million federal employees - including 60 U.S. senators.

Brokerage firm Ameritrade - also in March - admitted that sometime during February it discovered that somehow it lost a tape containing records with the personal information of 200,000 of the firm's former and current customers. The good news was that while four tapes went missing, three were eventually found. The other is still lost.

These events involved three very large U.S. companies, each of which runs a successful business, and each of which invests millions of dollars building its own sophisticated IT operations.

What went wrong, and what can we learn from this?

In the late 1960s, the American cartoonist Robert Crumb frequently suggested to us that we should "Keep on truckin'."

In an era that has elevated the visibility of identity theft and suggests that a company's data represents the majority of its corporate assets, we are tempted to ask ourselves just how stupid does an enterprise have to be to trust its data - on unencrypted back-up tapes, no less - to a third-party that is capable of losing the tapes? And what human being is not capable of such an error? Or worse.

If you think you have a good method for off-site storage for your backups and archives, this might be the time to remind yourself about a chain being as strong as its weakest link.

What is the weakest link in your "back-up chain"? It might be a truck driver, or some guy on the loading dock with his hands on a tape full of unencrypted data that could put your business out of business.

For years Iron Mountain and its competitors have made lots of money storing your company's data, but even Iron Mountain is making provision for more sophisticated customers who want to transfer data electronically rather than deal with the time, expense and increasingly - the danger - of transporting tapes.

Keep on truckin'?

OK cartooning. And, of course, the Teamsters have always been in favor of the concept. As a method of ensuring the safety of back-up tapes however, it's an approach that really stinks.

The bottom line: When it comes to transporting unencrypted data off your site, just say no.

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