In a recent assessment project, our client’s IT staff had done a fine job of considering security issues and compliance processes for the company’s computer systems. They had documented the technical tasks, had a regular review process, and continually considered appropriate security issues.
What they failed to notice were some dangerous flaws in their backup processes. As we see way too often, this client relied on the backup software’s confirmation that these backups were successful. Since they trusted the software, they never restored any data from a backup drive in order to confirm beyond a doubt the backup had really worked. A common line of thinking, even if never admitted, is, “The computer said it worked, so it must have been successful.”
If you think this is something that only happens at small or marginal businesses, then you are in for a surprise. This is a common mistake, often made at companies you might assume are too large to make such small-time errors. And with increasingly short-staffed IT teams, these mistakes are even easier when everyone has more work than they can do. When a staff is short on time, checking backups, logs, and monitoring systems is often done haphazardly -- and sometimes not at all.
Through the years, our team has often been called in to try to help restore a failed backup that was managed by someone else. This call often comes from small and midsize businesses with small or outsourced IT staff, but we’ve also seen this situation at large organizations, too. Any company can fall prey to complacency, apathy, or ignorance.
Without fail, the person responsible for these backups trusted the software and did not perform routine, methodical testing, restoring data from the backup devices to ensure the backup was working as expected. Because this employee did not have our broad experience with many different organizations, backup failure wasn’t considered a major risk. Or perhaps the risk was known, but the staff member deferred the work until “they weren’t so busy.” From our experience and perspective, we always know the risk involved in this scenario, and also what a common and easily avoidable risk it is.
This is a classic example of how using a compliance and security “proofreader” can be invaluable: a fresh perspective, one with different experiences, to look over the operations and find the glaring holes that can be easily missed and subsequently remain unknown. This proofreading of your compliance can involve more than simple backups, of course. It works best when it is designed as an objective review of all your work. After all, proofreading only one chapter won’t actually improve a book at all.
The more removed from the day-to-day aspects of a business or department, the easier it is to spot issues and mistakes. Even if it's not required, an outside auditor (or even simply someone from another department) may be more effective (and more economical) than your own staff spending hours hoping to find the mistakes they didn’t see the first time.
Glenn S. Phillips, the president of Forte' Incorporated, works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. He is the author of the book Nerd-to-English and you can find him on twitter at @NerdToEnglish.