Cautionary Tale: Backups and Computer Malware

A shop owner describes how his data survived a virus attack that wiped out two computer hard drives and erased a backup disk (one backup version miraculously survived). April 21, 2011

Several businesses and banks got hit with a particularly bad virus this last week. We did too. I don't know what of our computer problems are a direct result, but it has made a mess out of things here. We run antivirus and firewall software. Our server has a dual drive mirroring raid system and an external backup hard drive. It is also equipped with a battery backup and electrical conditioning system. In addition every night it downloads to a remote computer with mirroring drives kept at my house. A reasonably safe system. Well, somehow both drives on the office server got trashed, killed, won't work at all and the external hard drive got reformatted (wiped clean). Luckily the backup computer at my house still has all our information, which we are now loading on new drives in the server. We should get a new server on Friday that has been on order for a week. It will be setup for our internal use only and not connected to the internet. The old server will become our connection for the shop/office computers to the internet. We were lucky this time; our last backup system saved the day.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor L:
Does this virus have a name?

From contributor P:
Wow, that is really something. Sorry to hear that it hit you that bad. I like the idea of keeping the internet separate from business computers.

From the original questioner:
Until this episode I didn't realize that the hard drives could be physically damaged by a virus. After my IT guy talked to several people that have much better knowledge of the subject (a man in military intelligence, an engineer at a company that designs drives and an IT guy from a large corporation), they all agreed it was quite possible. In essence the speed control of the drive can be modified to simply over-speed itself to death. It is possible, but the actual method is not widely known to your average virus creating %^#@&!

As a side note: we have been scanning all receipts, invoices and the like and not keeping the paper. Many of the receipts you get from a cash register fade away in a relatively short time. For guys on smaller systems, itís probably a good idea to burn a CD/DVD of your information as a backup periodically. A remote cheap computer can be set up to do backups automatically. Things can happen in the shop/office even with a separate hard drive (fire, theft and nasty virus come to mind).

From contributor M:
I'm a one man shop and I use Carbonite online backup. It's completely automatic and cheap. It would be slow to recover from a complete crash, but better than not having the data at all. I'm sure there may be some other drawbacks, but in case of fire or theft, it's way better than the DVD or flash drive that's laying on the desk next to the computer. Plus I don't have to remember to do it.

From contributor T:
Good warning to pass on. Virus protection software works to stop viruses it knows about. Things like USB sticks and other portable storage devices can introduce viruses, so blocking these devices is important.

From contributor B:
I've been lucky at the office and never had a major failure. My wife's PC at home, though, got taken out by lightening in spite of all the surge protectors, etc. That was a major pain.

If I put in a new PC in the office, I figure on two 8 to 10 hour days to get about 75% back up to speed. Then I'm loading secondary programs and configuring settings and preferences for around 3 weeks after that. Backup systems to help avoid that scenario except when installing a new system by choice are a must.

Recently I replaced my program HDD (dual drives - one program and one data) with one of the new SSD drives. It was the largest improvement in performance I've ever seen, including going up a step or two in CPU technology. A shut down and reboot went from about 4 minutes to around 60 to 70 seconds.

A great side note to that upgrade is that I kept the old HDD for a backup. If anything ever happened to my new SSD program drive, a 5 minute swap out has the old program HDD back in place and I'm up and running. All I'll be missing is any miscellaneous programs installed since the SSD drive went in. Critical files on my data drive are backed up in multiple locations, including uploaded online.