Protecting business data from cyberthieves

Data theft has become a lucrative business for criminals across the globe. The valuable information stored on businesses' storage devices, including client personal information and financial records, can be easily leveraged for financial gain by enterprising hackers. The losses that result from a data breach can be extremely high, especially when considering factors beyond the value of the lost information itself. For example, a business may face government or industry regulations regarding the storage of sensitive information. If an investigation found that the organization was not in compliance, owners could face massive fines.

A recent report released by cybersecurity firm McAfee stated that the annual cost of data breaches in the United States could be as high as $100 billion. That loss of revenue across the entire economy could translate into significant employment cuts. Based on current estimates, cybercrime activity could result in more than half a million people losing their jobs each year. 

Another factor that businesses need to consider is the potential hit an organization's brand can take following a data breach. If customer information was improperly accessed while stored on a business' device, the reputation of that institution could plummet. For smaller operations, it might be impossible to recover from this loss of public trust. 

It wasn't long ago that small business owners could dismiss the threat of malware because cybercriminals preferred to target large enterprises. That is no longer the case, however, and smaller organizations have experienced more malware activity in recent years. Cybersecurity vendor Symantec recently stated that attacks launched against small businesses were on the rise, CSO reported. The large number of targets and their relatively weak defensive capabilities were cited as driving factors for the increased incident rate.

Small businesses can help secure their sensitive data by moving it to a secure, offline storage device. Disc-based data archiving solutions can be leveraged to hold onto important information without taking the risk that hackers will get their hands on it. Business owners can use a Blu-ray burner to copy their critical files to discs and then store them in a secure location. 

Finding alternatives to cloud storage options

In recent years, more small businesses and self-employed professionals have used public cloud services for data storage. Many found cloud options to be a cost-effective alternative to investing in an on-premises device. According to ITProPortal contributor Richard Eglon, Dropbox alone has approximately 175 million users. However, data security and availability concerns have persisted since the beginning. Unlike an on-site solution, cloud storage prevents business owners from retaining full control of their information. Storing business data on a remote, networked server creates the possibility that sensitive information can be accessed by cybercriminals or other unauthorized parties. These fears were realized when details regarding the U.S. government's PRISM program came to light. Federal agents covertly collected massive amounts of digital data belonging to numerous American citizens. The scandal has led many business owners and leaders to reconsider how safe information stored in the cloud really is.

A recent report issued by consultancy firm Deloitte found that many executive officers expressed concern about the level of data security present with cloud file storage options. Researchers concluded that if an organization opts to utilize cloud storage solutions, then business leaders should consider which information is too sensitive to entrust to a third party and should be stored onsite.

These fears are just as relevant to small businesses as they are to large enterprises, although larger corporations can weather instances of data loss much more easily than a small organization can. The various costs of a data breach, including direct financial loss, brand erosion and regulatory non-compliance penalties, can bury a small business. If business owners choose to store their data in the cloud, they should also leverage data archiving solutions to maintain a backup of all sensitive and mission-critical information. This way, even if cloud data is lost, businesses can still access that information and continue operations unabated. A disc-based solution would also allow owners to scale their backup initiatives up or down as they see fit, either making duplicates of only the most important files or archiving the business' entire data base.

Looking Beyond Blu-ray: Next-gen Optical Discs

Sony and Panasonic are the two powerhouse companies behind the Blu-ray technology that we know and love today. Large storage capacity for HD movies with lossless audio, and with scratch resistant long storage life, they’re excellent for personal archives. These two companies are now working together to provide the next generation of optical discs focusing primarily on the professional archive market.

Target capacity: At least 300GB per disc
Target release: End of 2015 

We live in a culture of big data. We create 2.5 quintrillion bytes of data each day. Some of this data must be retained for years from video production industries, broadcasting, data centers and so on. Both companies plan on improving their development efficiency based on technologies held by each company respectively to begin the process of tackling professional archiving solutions.



Maintaining business continuity with data archiving solutions

Business continuity is often discussed in regard to enterprise-level organizations, but its concepts are applicable to small businesses as well. If anything, smaller operations should be more concerned about keeping their key services and applications up and running, as they lack the resources to weather extended periods of downtime. Even the most loyal customer will seek out the services of a competitor if his or her preferred provider is unable to continue operating. One of the most important aspects of a business continuity plan is having data archiving solutions in place to ensure that owners have access to their critical data in the event of a crisis.

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety recently explained that random, unpredictable events such as lightning strikes can cause extensive damage to the infrastructure of a small business. Even without receiving a direct hit, an organization could suffer a massive voltage spike that can overload critical equipment and irrecoverably harm on-site data storage devices. Small businesses rely on numerous sources of information to keep their organizations running, including sales and transaction data, payroll records and customer index files.

"No matter its size, every business is vulnerable to a disaster," the organization stated. "Having a recovery plan in place can make the difference between reopening in a matter of weeks, months, or – worse – be among the one out of four that never reopen following a disaster."

Maintaining an off-site data archiving solution
The organization outlined several steps for protecting data in the event of a crisis, chief among them backing up important records and files with data archiving solutions. Businesses should also be sure to keep hard copies of this data in a safe, off-site location. This way, business owners can quickly retrieve any lost data without losing a significant amount of revenue to operational downtime. 

Tech Reviews stated that there are numerous ways data can be lost or compromised, including power fluctuations, network breaches and employee error. Many businesses leverage external data storage devices to back up their primary equipment, providing a safety net in case such an incident occurs. One of the best methods of ensuring that critical files are available after a damaging data loss incident is to use disc-based archiving solutions. Because information is stored on cost-effective discs, business owners can scale their archiving solutions up or down as they please. A Blu-ray burner, for instance, can facilitate the development of an extensive data archiving initiative, allowing organizations to spread their backed-up data across a series of high-capacity discs for easy retrieval. This way, small business owners will continue to have access to critical information following a data loss incident.

Extending the life of an SSD drive

In today's marketplace, downtime and latency are becoming less acceptable to consumers and clients. With the wide availability of high-performance systems, organizations of all sizes are expected to provide end users with reliable service. More businesses and professionals are leveraging solid state technology to improve the performance of their critical applications, particularly those that are consumer focused. SSD drives are a much more responsive data storage solution than standard HDD technology. Due to its internal architecture, the latter is prone to causing significant bottlenecks, preventing users from quickly launching applications and accessing important documents files. The NAND flash memory embedded in solid state technology is not beholden to such physical limitations, allowing convenient access to the files stored on an SSD. 

Another benefit to lacking sensitive internal components is that SSD drives are less susceptible to physical degradation over time. HDD read/write heads can break down and magnetic platters can stop spinning, but solid state technology is much more durable. SSDs are not, however, everlasting. They have a finite number of write cycles and once they have been exhausted, they cease operating. Depending on the device and the type of installed flash memory chip, the number of cycles it can complete in its lifespan can be anywhere from 3,000 for consumer grade MLCs to 100,000 for high-end SLCs, PCWorld reported.

Limit read/write cycles
Users can take certain steps to extend the shelf life of their SSD drives, however. Most importantly, businesses should ensure that only the most important data is stored on these high-powered devices. Operating systems and mission-critical applications are good candidates for solid state storage. Viewable documents and media files, meanwhile, do not typically require the performance benefits provided by this technology. Storing them on an SSD drive is not simply a waste of valuable space, but will bring the drive a step closer to the end of its lifespan every time they are accessed. PCWorld also noted that while defragging is occasionally necessary with HDD devices, the process has little value for SSD drives and will instead conduct multitudinous, tiny writes that will adversely affect their longevity.

The tech gurus at Tom's Hardware stumbled upon another method to extend the life of an SSD drive, according to ITworld. They noticed that when the RAM of a computer was quadrupled, the system made fewer writes to the SSD drive when accessing its data. In one example, the testers identified 64 percent less input/output activity than when using less memory. To ensure that a business' solid state technology remains operational for the longest period of time possible, users should limit the number of unnecessary write cycles completed. 

Deploying SSD devices in a POS environment

Many retail, hospitality and restaurant services require a reliable point-of-sale system to operate at optimal capacity. Without a fully functioning POS system, clerks will be unable to quickly process transactions and provide consumers with a fast and convenient experience. A recent study found that 78 percent of retailers described their POS network as critical to ensuring customer satisfaction, Apparel Magazine reported. POS systems oversee an integral component of the consumer-business transaction and have the capacity to either guide it effortlessly to completion or disrupt the process entirely.

"[T]hese applications are complex – and if not managed properly, run the risk of failure," the source cautioned. "When POS performance fails due to faulty system components – whether hardware, software, or network elements – the results can include at-the-register slowdowns, higher costs and lost sales. Let's also not forget about angry customers."

Some of the most common bottlenecks that a networked system may encounter are related to data storage device performance. While hard disk drives can offer a decent amount of storage capacity at a relatively low cost, their ability to read and write data is inhibited by their internal moving parts. Magnetic platters can only spin so fast, meaning that there is a ceiling to how quickly users will be able to access important files or applications. For consumers, this lag is an inconvenience; in a retail or service industry environment, any delays can be costly. Customers may cancel their transactions, lodge a complaint or take their business to a competitor. 

Ensuring operational performance with SSD technology
To ensure that consumers are provided a fast and convenient shopping experience, businesses can deploy high-performance solid state technology. SSD drives can be integrated with legacy POS systems, providing a noticeable boost in performance. According to a report issued by J2 Retail Systems, SSDs can provide data read/write speeds that are as much as 400 percent faster than HDDs. In addition, because of the technology's physiology, SSD drives are not prone to latency issues when switching from sequential to random reads. HDDs, on the other hand, operate slower under these conditions because their read heads need to reposition themselves to access data.

Another benefit SSDs provide retailers is longevity. Overhead costs are a major burden for any operation and needing to replace hardware on a regular basis can drain corporate coffers. According to J2 Retail Systems, the mean time between failures for an SSD is anywhere between 114 and 456 years. In addition, component degeneration is unlikely to occur at the same rate as an HDD with its numerous moving parts. Above all else, POS systems need to be reliable and fast, two features that SSD drives can provide.

Ensuring the longevity of information with data archiving solutions

When small businesses and consumers archive their files, there is an expectation that the archived documents will be properly stored and accessible for years to come. However, not all available options can facilitate long-term storage needs. Many are either simply not designed for longevity or are highly susceptible to conditions that could reduce their expected lifespan. Knowing the data loss risks presented by various storage options before making a choice can pay off in the long run for small business owners who might otherwise invest in a bad device. That is why it is imperative organizations and consumers alike deploy data archiving solutions that offer long-term reliability.

Magnetic tape has been utilized heavily over the years for archiving business information. Many businesses chose this format because of its relatively low cost, but magnetic tape may not be an ideal method of storing information for the long haul. According to the Software Preservation Society, the format is only expected to remain readable for 10 to 30 years. There are extenuating factors that can decrease digital storage device's longevity as well, including how often data is written and read, the cleanliness of the storage area and how the device is handled over the years.

The fragility of hard disk drives
In recent years, businesses are more likely to employ hard disk drives for their archiving needs, but this format comes with its own set of concerns as well. For one, HDDs rely on the operability of its finely tuned and sensitive moving parts to continue functioning. Physicist and storage expert Kurt Gerecke explained to Computerworld that HDDs have disk-bearing components that allow them to position their read/write heads. These materials wear out over time, however, rendering the device inoperable. Gerecke noted that this degradation will occur at a faster rate with less expensive HDDs. In addition, these devices are highly susceptible to temperature changes. According to National Instruments, a mere 5 degree Celsius increase in temperature can take up to two years off the lifespan of the average HDD.

Optical disk media, especially the Blu-ray format, may be the most reliable data archiving solution available. Hitachi Data Systems director Ken Wood outlined the various benefits of optical storage at a recent conference, The Register reported. For instance, current optical media formats have the capacity to store data for 1,000 years. In addition, they have demonstrated an unparalleled level of durability. According to Wood, optical media was the only data storage format to survive Hurricane Katrina. While some individuals might be uneasy about deploying a data storage device that might become outdated one day, Wood noted that optical media devices have demonstrated an adherence to backwards compatibility. For example, modern Blu-ray players can still play compact discs that were released more than 30 years ago.

Ensuring business continuity with data archiving

When a disaster strikes, businesses can become disconnected from their critical data stores, preventing them from continuing operations. Whether it be weather-related, the result of a malware attack or simply human error, when storage devices become damaged or corrupted, business continuity becomes threatened. For large enterprises, IT managers have typically employed redundancies to ensure that operations can continue unabated or with minimal disturbance, but small businesses do not have the resources or manpower to implement such a project. Without robust data archiving solutions in place, these organizations may be unable to conduct business after such an event. contributor Stewart Paul recently urged small business owners to deploy a strong data backup system in the event that disaster strikes. He noted that many of these organizations do not have a recovery plan in place, putting their future in jeopardy. Financial records, client contact information and transaction accounts can all be stored on a single device. If a sudden voltage spike, penetrating malware attack or hardware degeneration were to occur, that information could be lost forever.

Employing a data archiving solution can provide businesses with protection in the event that disaster strikes and their primary storage devices are rendered inoperable.

"Developing a disaster recovery plan is the first important step to ensure organizational continuity," Paul stated. "Backing up your informational assets is a key responsibility today."

Taking control of data archiving
In a small business environment, individual employees shoulder a lot of the daily workload. However, owners cannot rely on them to carry out an effective archiving and recovery plan, according to enterprise IT expert and InformationWeek contributor Wendy Schuchart. One of the reasons why employees may overlook the need for a solid archiving plan is because they do not properly appreciate the potential for data loss to occur as well as the fallout that could follow. For instance, workers may not be aware that disaster recovery extends to phenomena unrelated to weather events such as malware attacks and hardware failure.

Another concern is that employees might have already unilaterally offloaded whatever they deem to be important into a third-party storage service such as Dropbox. This possibility highlights the need for business owners to take control of their data and implement their own data archiving solutions. Having an off-site backup option in case primary systems are damaged or corrupted can ensure that operations can get up and running again in no time. For additional security, businesses can utilize a disc-based solution such as a Blu-ray burner. This way, organizational leaders can scale their data archiving solutions up or down as they please, copying files onto portable Blu-ray discs that can be easily recovered if primary storage devices go down.

Computer viruses threaten to corrupt data

Consumers today are faced with a greater risk of malware infection than at any previous time. The number of threats lurking in cyberspace is skyrocketing and cybercriminals are increasingly gaining access to more sophisticated tools to launch attacks against unsuspecting users. The emergence of exploit kits has even allowed those lacking any hacking skills to infect machines with devastating malicious code. Cybersecurity professionals seem to be perpetually caught in an arms race with the world's hackers, releasing new defenses only to see them quickly circumvented by the latest threat. The increasing threat posed by computer viruses and other malware has led many consumers to consider their available cybersecurity and data archiving solutions with greater scrutiny.

Although numerous forms of malware exist in today's digital landscape, viruses remain a popular tool among cybercriminals. For instance, the Department of Justice recently issued a warning to consumers regarding a ransomware virus that has become more prevalent, the Journal Sentinel reported. Once a system has become infected by the program in question, the user will be faced with a message apparently sent by the agency accusing him or her of a crime and requesting a financial penalty be paid unless the person would rather face prosecution. The virus locks the infected machine, preventing victims from accessing any of the files stored on their hard drive.

Another recently identified computer virus takes on the visage of anti-virus security providers. According to cybersecurity researchers at Online Virus Repair, this particular virus strain has become extremely common and can easily evade even the strongest defenses. Even after removing these threats, consumers may find that the malicious code has wreaked havoc on their systems, corrupting files and folders as it spreads. Any device directly connected to a networked system will be susceptible to data corruption. One way that individuals can protect their important data and irreplaceable files is by deploying a disc-based data archiving solution. By backing up their files onto a Blu-ray media disc, consumers can be sure their unique files will remain intact even if their hard drive becomes corrupted.

Examining the benefits of SSD form factors

Both businesses and consumers with have become increasingly intrigued by the performance benefits that can be gained by switching from traditional hard disk drives to SSD technology for their data storage solution. Interested parties may find themselves beset with a multitude of options that could quickly overwhelm them, however. The NAND flash memory that solid state technology operates on presents several varieties to consider alone. Beyond SLC, MLC and TLC flash, however, potential users must decide what type of solid state drive best fits their needs as the devices come in many form factors.

Form factors are essentially the physical dimensions of hardware. According to TechTarget, first deciding how the technology will be utilized is a crucial step toward choosing the right solid state form factor. For instance, if a user wanted to leverage SSD drives as his or her primary source of data storage, he or she would need to particular model, versus if the device was going to be integrated into a hybrid solution with an HDD.

The disk drive format is the most widely used type of solid state implementation. They can be deployed in both enterprise and consumer environments and are compatible with many of the same interfaces and connectors that are used by modern HDDs. Because solid state drives are capable of providing a much higher level of performance, developers have created new interfaces to maximize that potential. These include SATA Express, SCSI Express and Non-Volatile Memory Express.

Options for higher and lower performance
There are also form factors specific to SSDs, most notably mini-SATA or mSATA. According to Dennis Martin, president and founder of analyst firm Demartek, technicians originally designed the technology with both SSD and HDD applications in mind, but found it was more effectively used with solid state drives, TechTarget reported. With its reduced storage capacity and lower power requirements, mSATA is ideal for running smaller applications.

Users can also choose a PCI Express card form factor, which directly interfaces with a machine's PCIe bus. This allows the system to access data stored on the device more quickly, reducing application launch latency. At an enterprise level, PCIe cards can outperform drive solutions in terms of both capacity and speed, but are more expensive to deploy. Martin cautioned that prospective buyers should take the time to do their research and choose a form factor that is compatible with legacy hardware and meets a business' needs.

"If you've got a big, full-height, full-length card and you've got a low-profile server [that] doesn't give you full length, you won't be able to put that card in it," he explained. "The other thing is that some of these large PCIe SSDs draw more power than the bus provides. [With] some of the buses, 25 watts is all you get. If the SSD needs more than that, you're going to need to get power from somewhere else."