8 Most Common Reasons for DATA Loss


No matter how careful you are, nothing can guarantee the safety of your digital files and there are several ways how data loss can occur.

Depending on what was lost, data loss can be a minor inconvenience or a major disaster. Best case, you still need to spend time and resources to recover it during a forensic data investigation.

Either way, data loss can make a forensic analyst’s job harder, and without the proper hard disk recovery tools, you can quickly find yourself dead in the water.

Causes of Data Loss Statistics - Pie Chart

According to R-explorer, hardware failure is the leading cause of data loss, with human error trailing close behind.

Today, we will cover the most common reasons for data loss and see whether there are any solutions that can aid you during forensics recovery.

1. Hardware Failure

Various hardware components can cause trouble or become dysfunctional and thereby corrupt your files, even the ones that have nothing to do with handling data.

These include:

  • RAM
  • Motherboard
  • CPU
  • Power supply
  • Hard drive

Hard drives, in particular, are prone to failure due to containing several fragile moving parts. With excessive use, a hard drive will wear out much faster, so keep a watchful eye on these 7 signs of hard drive failure:

  • Strange clicking or rattling noises
  • Files don’t open properly, are corrupted, or disappear
  • Performance slowdowns
  • Your computer hangs up often
  • Issues during boot
  • Disk analysis identifies bad sectors
  • Your computer is heating up
Reasons for Hard Drive Failure Statistics - Pie Chart

FACT: 60% of all hard drive failures occur due to mechanical reasons, the other 40% are due to misuse. (source: Wikipedia)

Fail to act soon enough, and data loss may follow. If you’re already experiencing it, hard drive recovery will be necessary which is only possible with proper data recovery equipment.

2. Human Error

When it comes to data loss, human error is a major cause. This is why training and ongoing education are of vital importance. But even so, none of it changes the fact that human beings are prone to making mistakes due to stress, lack of sleep, etc.

man with questions

According to IT professionals, 29% of data loss is due to human error. (source: Storagecraft)

Some malicious, other innocent, but the fact remains that there are several scenarios in which human error can cause data loss:

Overwriting the file by mistake

Due to a lack of experience or not paying attention, someone might overwrite a file without having any malicious intent. Even a simple text editor has the basic ‘save’ function that lets you do this.

Inexperienced use of data recovery tools

The fact of the matter is, even installing hard disk data recovery software could be a problem in and of itself. When you do that, you could potentially overwrite the very segments of the hard drive you’re trying to salvage data from. The proper digital forensics methodology is to make a disk image first as to not overwrite the overwrite any data and preserve the integrity of the evidence.

SalvationDATA’s DRS supports 2 disk imaging modes – choose one based on the condition of the hard drive. For hard drives with damaged heads, choose the head-imaging option. This will image all data out by skipping any damaged heads, thus making sure that no data is damaged or made irrecoverable during digital forensics investigations.

Formatting the disk without making a backup copy first

Before reinstalling the OS or installing a new one, it’s crucial to backup your data first – otherwise, it will be lost during the process. If you’ve made one before, you could simply do a backup restore in this scenario, but even if you’ve completely forgotten, there is still a way to salvage your data.

Indeed; with proper hard drive recovery tools, it’s possible to recover data even after formatting the hard drive. In fact, DRS can help you out with this, whether you’re dealing with data loss that occurs on the hard drive or storage media (such as a flash drive or a memory card).

Accidental deletion by pressing the wrong button or misclicks

Accidents happen. During work, a user might accidentally delete a file by pressing the ‘delete’ button while the wrong file is selected. In this case, the file can simply be pulled back from the recycle bin. However, the ‘shift+delete’ button combination deletes the file permanently.

In day-to-day life, law enforcement personnel and digital forensics experts often face the need to restore deleted files as a result of someone trying to hide or destroy evidence.

Negligence and improper care

A room that is too hot, too cold, too damp, etc., can have a negative effect on the hard drive. Storing your IT hardware in an inappropriate environment like this can significantly shorten its lifespan. But even in optimal conditions, a user can, for instance, hastily remove the storage media while data is still being written to it, thus inadvertently creating corrupted files.

Failure to back up your data frequently also falls into this category. That’s why data backup and recovery are such important concepts in digital forensics. Whether it be due to malice or genuine human error, a skilled computer forensic expert must be equipped with the right knowledge and tools to handle the situation appropriately.

3. Malware

Malware can wreak some serious havoc on an operating system and it’s one of the major focuses of IT security forensics. Since most businesses have undergone at least some form of digital transformation by now, they are vulnerable to a potential cyber attack that translates into financial damage through data loss, loss of trust, operational delays, etc. Purplesec states that, on average, a malware attack on a company costs $2.4m.

Malware can affect a computer or smart device in several ways. It can:

  • Delete files
  • Encrypt files
  • Steal data and passwords
  • Read your keystrokes
  • Spread to other devices on the network
  • Display malicious ads
  • Mine cryptocurrency and clog up your resources
  • Control your device

From worms and all the way to trojans and adware, there are many types of malware circulating in the wild. Ransomware, in particular, is one of the major cyber threats out there and a contributing factor to data loss.

In essence, the victim is cajoled into forking over a ransom in exchange for a decryption key, often through hardly-traceable means such as cryptocurrency. The problem is, even if the victim complies, nothing guarantees the hacker will honor their end of the bargain.

Furthermore, doing any of the things listed below can put you at an increased risk of a malware infection:

  • Using outdated antivirus software (or none at all)
  • Pirating software from dubious sources
  • Clicking on links or opening attachments you don’t recognize
  • Surfing websites of questionable origin

spider climbing on email

FACT: According to Purplesec, 92% of malware is delivered via email. (source: Purplesec.us)

4. Misplacing the Device Or Theft

It’s easy to think in terms of digital factors, but don’t forget that data loss can also occur due to physical causes. Whether it be misplacing the device or due to theft committed by a third party, losing access to your data stings just as much.

After all, a computer or smart device can contain a wealth of sensitive data, including bank information, login credentials, cryptocurrency, document scans, private conversations, etc. That’s why you should never leave your devices unattended and lock them up while you’re away.

Percentage of lost smartphones that are recovered - statistics
FACT: Out of 70 million smartphones that are lost on a yearly basis, only 7% or 4.9 million are recovered. (source: Channelpronetwork)

5. Software Causes

As much as we’d like to fool ourselves into thinking otherwise, no software is perfect. As such, it’s prone to malfunctioning and errors from time to time. For example, if video editing software crashes on you while you’re in the middle of editing (especially if it happens during video export), there is a wide range of common video file errors that can occur.

In addition, the following can also lead to data loss:

  • Application crashes
  • Incomplete file transfer
  • Error during backup
  • Error during file conversion
  • Error during video editing
  • False-positive flag by antivirus

6. Natural Disasters

Natural disasters often strike when least expected. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Fire damage
  • Earthquakes
  • Power outages
  • Water damage

The latter can short circuit your device and jeopardize any data stored on it. Therefore, you should avoid leaving drinks and liquids anywhere in the vicinity. In the unfortunate event that water damage still occurs, power off your device immediately and dry it completely before turning it back on.

As for earthquakes and fire damage, know that nature often runs its own course, especially if you’re located in a high-risk environment. Rather than trying to remedy the situation, it’s always better to take preventative measures and have a backup restore option ready in case you need one. Ideally, you should make at least one physical copy and one you upload to the cloud (after all, a natural disaster may destroy your physical storage media too).


A disaster can come out of nowhere.

Power outages are the simplest to handle out of the bunch. They mostly tend to cause problems if they occur while you’re trying to save or export data to a file, thus interrupting the process and corrupting the file. The solution is to use an uninterruptible power supply (or UPS for short) or a laptop or smart device with a built-in battery.

7. Hackers

If you know little to nothing about network security and cyber security in general, you’re an easy target for hackers to exploit your lack of knowledge. Hackers can find their way in through various entry points:

  • Weak passwords
  • Malware backdoors
  • No or misconfigured firewall
  • Outdated OS and software
  • Misconfigured router
  • etc.

Due to the vast threat landscape, IT security and forensics go hand in hand. Both IT forensics experts and other law enforcement personnel should have at least a basic level of understating of cyber security.


Hackers are growing increasingly more cunning in their ways, so don’t make their job too easy.

8. Malicious Insiders

Sometimes, the culprit is right underneath your nose. Unfortunately, not everyone has your best intentions in mind, not even the people you’re working with. To illustrate the scope of the problem, Techjury reports that incidents related to insider threats have increased by 47% during the last couple of years.

A good cyber security prevention tip is to utilize a tiered access system to control who can access what and grant access on demand. Let your associates and third-party contractors explicitly tell you why they are requesting access to a particular account or device and keep a watchful eye on their activities.


Don't Give Up Too soon - There May Still Be a Way To Recover Deleted Files!

As dire as your situation may seem, data loss may not be permanent. DRS by SalvationDATA can effectively recover a formatted hard drive, perform SDD recovery, and even recover deleted files from a wide range of storage media, even if they’ve been corrupted, overwritten or if the storage medium or hard drive has been damaged.

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Being the market-leading smartphone and computer data recovery software in digital forensics, this one-click HDD and SDD data extraction solution has remained a must-include file recovery tool in every digital forensic examiner’s arsenal for the last 20+ years. Its intuitive interface will serve you well in your digital forensics career even if you aren’t particularly tech-savvy.

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How To Avoid DATA Loss In the Future?

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With this in mind, make sure to:

  • Control who can access your data
  • Make backups regularly
  • Partition your hard drive
  • Defragment your disk
  • Store and maintain your hardware properly
  • Keep your software and OS up to date
  • Keep a watchful eye on your devices
  • Keep your devices under lock and key when not using them


As you can see from the points made above, the statistics are clear – data loss can happen to just about anyone in a myriad of ways, so take the steps necessary to protect it. But the good news is, even if your hardware has suffered a heavy blow or someone has deleted the files, whether intentionally or by mistake, your data may not be lost permanently.

With the right data rescue and hardware forensic tools such as DRS by SalvationDATA, data loss can effectively become a thing of the past, at least in the vast majority of cases. Don’t forget there is a free trial, so you’re invited to give it a shot and see why it’s the go-to data recovery solution for digital forensics experts from all over the world!