The 6 Most Common Causes of IT Disasters

IT disasters have many different causes—from user error to hardware failure. Regardless of the cause, IT disasters can wreak havoc on your ability to conduct business. Even more, they can lead to lost revenue, lost sales, and a diminished reputation for your business among clients and staff.

The best way to mitigate the effects of IT disasters is to create a comprehensive disaster recovery plan. Your plan should include some of the most common causes of IT catastrophes, how to avoid them, and how to minimize and recover from them if they should happen.

Here, we’ll cover some of the most common causes of IT disasters, including how to avoid them, and how to recover from them. You should work with your IT support staff to come up with a plan of action that best suits your particular business.

Power Outages

It seems odd to think that in 2018 power outages would still be one of the most common causes of IT disasters, but indeed they are. In fact, in May of 2017 a data center power outage stranded around 75,000 British Airways passengers and disrupted global travel during a busy holiday weekend.

We’ve all experienced a power outage that stopped a favorite TV show from recording or ruined the food in our refrigerator. While these power disruptions are certainly annoying they have nothing on the destructive capabilities of a power outage at an ill-prepared data center.

Your risk management plan absolutely must include a backup system to ensure this problem doesn’t happen to you.

If your main IT system has its power knocked out you should have a redundant backup system that will seamlessly kick in and provide uninterrupted service.

While a power outage can wreak havoc on your ability to conduct business during the outage, once the power comes back on you may discover your valuable equipment has been damaged. A power surge can overload and permanently damage your servers and other IT equipment.

A power outage can disrupt your ability to conduct regular business. What’s more, you may be required to repair or replace costly equipment. If you don’t have an adequate backup plan you may even lose much of your business data. Power outages are among the most preventable IT disasters.

As you can see, you need a sufficient backup power supply to ensure a power outage won’t negatively impact your business. Consider batteries, portable generators, and multiple server locations to ensure redundancy.

Hardware Failure

Hardware failure is another one of the leading causes of IT disasters. While modern hardware is much more durable than in the past, no device can perform perpetually. In other words, all hardware will fail eventually.

Software updates, climate-controlled environments, and other advancements have improved and stretched the life of hardware and servers. However, they can still be susceptible to aging and breakdown. The best plan of action is put a sensible backup plan and disaster recovery strategy into place long before your hardware begins to show signs of slowing down or failing.

A sensible plan will include multiple, redundancies in your hardware inventory. This way, if a piece of hardware fails you can quickly replace it. What’s more, redundant hardware ensures that if a piece or section of your hardware infrastructure does fail, you have the resources to provide uninterrupted service to your customers, clients, and staff.

Many businesses are shifting control of data and IT infrastructure to outside companies. If you are planning to house your applications and data at an outside data center, ensure they have a comprehensive hardware backup plan. This places control of hardware in the hands of experts with multiple redundancies in place to ensure uninterrupted, or minimally interrupted, service in the event of hardware failure.

Software Issues

Software allows us to do amazing things with computers—but it’s also one of the leading causes of IT disasters. Software enables all that hardware to help you manage your data, organize production and shipping, and much more. If software fails or crashes it can lead to a loss of productivity, loss of sales, and loss of customers.

Worse yet, software that is not properly patched or updated can open the door to hackers and data thieves.

Consider the WannaCry ransomware attack of 2017. This malicious ransomware attack affected more than 200,000 computers in around 150 different countries. It was truly a global event.

What’s more, this attack caused hundreds, if not billions of dollars in damages. How is this attack related to software issues? The answer is simple, the computers that were affected by this attack hadn’t updated the software on their computers. The impacted computers were all running legacy software that was out of date.

Hackers took advantage of a vulnerability in the software to hijack hundreds of thousands of computers. Those computers had not installed the security update released by Microsoft earlier in the year. Software updates can help you avoid easily preventable IT disasters.

To ensure your software is a benefit and not a boon to your company it needs to be regularly updated. Make sure your IT plan includes regular patching and updating of your software.

User Error

User error is still one of the leading causes of IT disasters. Human error includes everything from unintentionally downloading a virus to an incorrect keystroke. Don’t think a typo can cause an IT disaster? Think again.

In the spring of 2017 a large number of websites crashed or were unable to complete certain tasks—those sites included Quora, Business Insider, Giphy, chat app Slack, Venmo, GitHub, and various IoT devices like Nest. These sites and apps went down for only a few hours, but during that time the crash interrupted regular services, impacted communication, and negatively affected sales and other business.

What caused this crash? Was it a new pernicious malware attack? Was it cyber warfare? No. It was simple human error.

All of these sites and apps rely on Amazon Web Services (AWS) as their cloud provider. During routine maintenance, a small typo was made.

Instead of taking a few servers offline in order to correct a small issue, an incorrect command was entered and it resulted in a crash that broke the internet for an afternoon.

As you can see, user error can cause big problems. Your IT staff should put protocols in place to ensure that a simple typo won’t crash your network.

Incorrect or Incomplete Training

Largely related to user error, incorrect or incomplete employee training can lead to IT disasters. After all, human error is one of the leading causes of preventable IT disasters—and poor training can easily lead to human error.

Employees and staff of companies need to be trained in best practices to avoid costly errors. Your IT staff should organize training seminars with new employees. Likewise, long-term employees should be retrained regularly to ensure everyone is following best practices. That’s because your staff is your best defense against data breach.

Training should include:

  • How and when to download attachments
  • How to recognize phishing scams
  • Proper password usage
  • Proper email usage
  • Use of private devices for company business
  • Use of company devices outside the office
  • Public WiFi protocols
  • Proper web browsing on company devices
  • Avoiding social media on company devices

Don’t let a simple human error like using a company computer to fill out that ‘what Walking Dead character are you’ survey compromise your network. Ensure that your staff are well trained in best practices and follow the protocols your IT staff puts in place to avoid these preventable IT disasters.

Natural Disaster

Natural disasters can severely restrict your ability to conduct business. While you have no control over the weather or seismological activity, you can control your disaster recovery planning.

You should create, revisit, and update your disaster recovery plan at regular intervals. Natural disasters can lead to power outages, hardware failure, flooding, fires, and other structural damage that may limit your ability to access your IT infrastructure.

Utilizing separate, offsite backups is an intelligent way to minimize damage to your data. Many IT support businesses offer redundant backups in locations separated by many miles. This redundancy minimizes the chance of catastrophic loss, like complete data loss.

Plan and Prepare

There are many common causes that can lead to an IT disaster. As you can see, some are avoidable and some are not. Regardless, you can prepare your business to effectively handle any situation that leads to an IT disaster.

Your company should create a disaster recovery plan. This plan should be created using input from management, IT support, and other staff. This plan should include common causes of IT disasters, how to effectively avoid those causes, and mitigation plans to minimize impact if a disaster does occur.

From power outages, to hardware and software issues, to user error, to data breaches—there is a lot that can go wrong with your IT infrastructure. Careful planning and the flexibility to react to any situation can ensure that if something does go wrong you’ll be prepared to handle it.

Need help putting together your disaster recovery plan? Call the experts at NIC.

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