Data loss isn’t just about fires and theft. There are many reasons files just get broken. A corrupted file is one that is there but the data has become gibberish. For example you open up an email and instead of readable text you see something like �-t�?h�Z�O1E��-�Ca �f�E??IG�Gq+. There is often no way to recover the original information so if you don’t have a backup you’re out of luck. Here are a few common ways files get corrupted:
- Bad Hard Drive Sectors – Without getting into geeky tech stuff, your hard drive is broken out into little compartments called sectors. Each holds a little piece of the file. If the drive platter gets a tiny imperfection, the sector and the data it holds become corrupted
- Magnetic Fields – Hard drives store information magnetically and magnetic fields can scramble the information. Even weak fields can do damage over long exposure. You may not realize power cords give off small magnetic fields due to the way alternating current works. If you lay a laptop on the power cord, you might corrupt the hard drive.
- Viruses – Computer viruses and other malware often spread by deliberately corrupting system files to hide malicious code. This makes them hard to detect and to delete.
- Software Crashes – If an application crashes while saving then the save file is usually corrupted. Some applications such as Microsoft Office save temporary files while you work so that they can recover most or all of your recent work after a crash.
- Pranks – This is also known as the “Little Brother Effect”. You know, your kid brother decides it would be really funny to change your resume to say you love My Little Pony and have been collecting your toenail clippings for twenty years. Hysterical…until you realize you sent out a hundred of those resumes.
- User Error – You save over an existing file, or you make changes and save them only to realize the old version was better. The original is gone now so you have to meticulously rebuild unless you had a backup.
- Accidental Deletions – Not technically corruption, but a deleted file is just as useless as a corrupt one. You aggressively clean house on your hard drive to create space and realize later you deleted some rarely-used but essential files. Today’s operating systems give you a safety net such as Windows’ Recycle Bin, but if you emptied the bin or waited too long then the deleted file is gone.
- Gremlins – Sometimes files get corrupted for no apparent reason. The hard drive is fine. No viruses detected. The software didn’t crash. The file just didn’t write correctly.
These are just a few ways files get corrupted. When you add the danger of losing your data to fire, theft, natural disaster and zombie uprising it’s amazing any of our data survives! Online backups are the best method of protecting vital information.