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Data Corruption

Jenna Phipps
Last Updated May 24, 2021 8:04 am

Data corruption is the process of data becoming unreadable or invalid. It typically happens to hardware, but software can also cause data corruption. Computer hard drives and external hard drives are susceptible to data corruption, as are solid-state drives (SSDs). While the ways data can become corrupted are numerous, the cause is often related to underlying drives.

How does data corruption happen?

All data is comprised of bits, either 0s or 1s in what is called binary code. When that binary code gets flipped, or mixed improperly, the file no longer opens or functions as it should.e. Sometimes flipping makes the file entirely unreadable by the computer.

Causes of hardware data corruption include:

  • Age
  • External conditions (such as extreme temperature)
  • Internal conditions (an overheated drive)
  • Malicious code, such as viruses that are downloaded onto a computer

Causes of software data corruption include:

  • Anything that happens during rewrite or overwrite operations to a file in a program or application
  • Software updates that don’t mesh well with the previous version of the software
  • Parts of the software that aren’t aware of other modules or errors as they’re being corrected (silos within software error management)

If a computer’s operating system or applications detect that data corruption is imminent, it may be able to reverse that, avoiding the corruption. Computer operating systems have disk monitoring options, such as the Check Disk feature (Chkdsk), but users can also download software that performs monitoring.  RAID (Random Array of Independent Disks) platforms for HDDs could be able to restore or transfer data from a corrupted drive to another drive, such as in a network-attached storage device with multiple drives.

True and final data corruption can be irreversible. Data corruption can be either detected or undetected. Undetected corruption is known as silent data corruption. This means that the computer system or monitoring software doesn’t see it.

Some amount of silent corruption is common in enterprise computer systems. Technology companies such as NetApp have done tests to see how much corruption a detection system can find. Out of 400,000 hard drives, 30,000 had silent corruption that was undetected by the system that was supposed to find it. Silent corruption is dangerous for enterprises, which are responsible for protecting their clients’ important data.

What is the solution to data corruption?

The solution to data corruption is to prevent data loss through backups.

If all data is backed up, when data is corrupted, all is not lost. A good practice for personal computer users is having at least one external hard drive on which their personal computer’s files are also stored. Having those files on a cloud server, such as through iCloud or Google Drive, is another good option. If data is particularly important or sensitive, it’s also good to store it in multiple locations, such as storing through a cloud provider as well as on premises. A good disaster recovery platform can also help users recover data in case of emergency.