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For assistance in recovering your valuable data from a virus, corrupted operating system, or progressive hard drive failure, contact Russ Jackman directly - russ@internetadvisor.ca or call 519.631.9425

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"TechTalk" - Handling A Crisis, by Russ Jackman
(Note to St. Thomas & District Chamber Members: This article was attributed to another author in error in the March 2004 "Business Beat".)

Oh No!
Handling a Technology Crisis

By Russ Jackman
InternetAdvisor.ca

Computer Viruses

You've become more savvy about opening email attachments, even from friends and known senders. You make sure your anti-virus program has the latest pattern file, and your firewall is configured to protect your system from hacker attacks. You're feeling pretty safe, right?

You can do everything right and still have your computer become infected. Someone will always be caught in the first wave of attacks, before your anti-virus vendor can protect against the new threat.

In more than 90% of cases even if a virus stops your system from working, most of your data can be recovered. Viruses typically attack the Windows operating system, and I encountered one last year that made several important directories appear to have been deleted though the data was still intact. The last thing you want to do in the case of a virus is format or "wipe" your system if you've got important data that needs to be saved.

In many cases, the virus can be removed manually (and you can double-check using Trend Micro's free online virus scan, by following the link above). If the operating system has been corrupted, it can often be reinstalled over top the existing installation by simply deleting a few key components first ... your programs will need to be reinstalled, but your important files will likely be intact. There are also operating systems that require only the CD-drive to boot and run your system, giving you access to valuable tools to aid in the data recovery from an infected, corrupted or failing hard drive.

Corrupted Operating System

If your system won't boot, it may be that the operating system has become corrupted. This will happen for a reason which needs to be identified (virus, early stages of hardware failure, user error) and remedied. But it needs to be said again ... you likely haven't lost your data. The o/s (operating system) is separate from your data ... you can uninstall and reinstall Windows, for example, and still maintain your documents, emails, digital photos, etc.

Do not let a technical support line or repair person format your hard drive if you need to recover files from it. Once this step is taken, your data is gone ... unfortunately, it is often the first step for many technicians who are more focused on getting your system running again by the quickest method than with helping you recover your files. Also be wary of the recovery CD that many brand-name computer companies supply, and their technical support call center will insist you use ... many of them also format your hard drive as the first step. Always ask if the process will involve formatting your drive - if it does, then you need to decide how important it is for you to save as many of your files as possible before taking the "easy way" and wiping your system.

Hard Drive Failure

It's been said many times before, but is worth repeating: there's a reason most hard drives in the consumer / small business price range have gone from a 3 year warranty to a 1 year warranty. The issue isn't replacing a $150 component ... it's the data loss, inconvenience, and downtime that is far more costly than a replacement drive.

Part of your contingency plan should include steps to recover from a hard drive failure - warranty or not. The easiest way to protect yourself is to install a second, redundant hard drive in your server or desktop. Many new servers and high-end desktop systems can be equipped with a RAID system (redundant array of independent drives), but most any desktop can support a second hard drive. A second drive provides a fast and easy way to make a copy of your important files or your entire system. In the case of a virus, corrupted operating system, or hard drive failure, all your data is immediately available - a properly-configured secondary drive can step in to replace a defective drive in a matter of minutes simply by switching a jumper and perhaps a cable. No down time!

If your system is giving you error messages related to your hard drive, your data may not be lost. While some drives will simply "fry", in other cases the failure causes the operating system to encounter errors first, making it appear the data is inaccessible. There are techniques to recover some data before a progressive failure does make disk access impossible.

Catastrophic Loss

While loss from fire, flood, or theft is the least-common technology crisis, it is also the most difficult and expensive to recover from if your routine doesn't include off-site data backups. For many years, magnetic tape backup was the easiest, most reliable way to backup large amounts of data to a removable medium.

Removable hard drives are popular among more and more companies, since they offer the ease-of-backup of a redundant drive and the ability to be removed from the premises overnight to protect against fire or theft.

Besides expensive-but-reliable tape systems, the low cost of DVD burners ($200-$300) make it easy for small businesses to backup several gigabytes of data to a single media with a few clicks of the mouse. In a worst-case scenario, your operating system and applications can be re-installed from the original CD's. Taking a few minutes daily or weekly to produce a CD or DVD with your important documents, databases, email files, etc., will help your business recover in the case of a catastrophic loss.


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