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Losing All Traces of Data

By Steve Jones,

I was reading a thriller recently, in which a businessperson had their child threatened if they didn't get some data for the criminals. Once the person had retrieved the data, they were told to delete it from the system and from all backups. Of course, they could do this, all in a few paragraphs of a novel. I'm sure plenty of lay people read this passage and accepted it as a possibility

While I certainly understand how a user might be able to delete data from a system, especially in many third party applications that are poorly written but have sold well. However, could someone actually delete all information from backups? I'd say that in most of the companies I've worked in, this wouldn't be possible. If the information was of any age, it would be stored in multiple locations on different media, some of which would be offline.

However I haven't worked lately in some enterprises where companies have moved to using disk backups, with systems connected together and managing versions. I suspect that it is possible in some of these enterprises to actually remove all traces of data from the organization, which isn't what I'd ever want possible. If for no other reason than this is an incredible attack vector for ransomware, a malicious virus, or some other destructive process (including rm -rf). There's also the issue of mistakes made by users; should they be able to remove all traces of data?

There may be valid reasons to remove all copies of data from an organization, especially when some time has passed. However I think this should be a difficult process, have some hurdles to overcome, not the least of which is physical access, and should require multiple people to approve the actions. As we connect more and more systems, and rely on data being available, allowing anyone to permanently remove data without oversight will become a problem.

 
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