Tech / Jan 16 2024

Don't let bit rot decay your data: understanding and preventing data corruption

Bit rot is a slow degradation in the performance and integrity of data stored on any digital device. It can lead to the loss of important information. Learn how to prevent the decay of your data.

We all use data daily and count on it to be stored efficiently and safely, wherever we put it. And while that generally might be the case, there is one thing we rarely take into account. Bit rot. Bit rot, also known as data decay, is the gradual deterioration of digital information stored on physical storage media, resulting in corrupted or unreadable information, affecting its accuracy and reliability. Various factors contribute to it and it is important to recognize that no digital storage media is forever. Bit rot is everywhere, but users of digital devices rarely think of it and take notice, even though it can affect them and their information severely.

While modern hard disk drives are highly efficient, affordable and long-lasting, they cannot last forever. Read more about bit rot (other terms for it are bit decay, data rot, data decay, and silent corruption) in the next paragraphs.

Big data centers - Koofr blog bit rot.jpg

1.) What is bit rot?

As mentioned, bit rot is a degradation in the performance and integrity of data stored on any digital device. It occurs when stored digital data becomes corrupted or unreadable. While the process of bit rot is typically slow it can be increased by various factors - environmental (temperature fluctuations, dust and other contaminants, humidity), wear of storage materials, magnetic interference, radiation exposure, as well as software obsolescence. They all can lead to the degradation of data. Another factor is the gradual deterioration of media (for example that of magnetic tapes, optical discs etc.) which can also lead to data loss.

Some examples of bit rot from the real world, that can easily affect any of us are failing hard drives that can cause the loss of photos and documents stored on them, decaying optical disks that are sometimes still used as long-term data storage and backup purposes. If they are exposed to heat, humidity and ultraviolet light, they deteriorate. Another point to consider is also data corruption in legacy software and file formats, meaning that older formats can become inaccessible over time (format rot). Remember the floppy disks that your parents used?

Opened hard drive photo - Koofr blog data decay

As our reliance on digital storage grows, understanding how bit rot occurs and how it is handled on both hardware and software levels becomes crucial. It is important to note that if the data decay is minimal, you’ll still be able to access the content of your chosen storage device. If the data decay is more invasive, the data on your storage device might be impossible to access and unrecoverable aka data recovery software will not save you in this case.

The phenomenon of bit rot is important to understand and consider, particularly for long-term data storage and archival purposes, as well as for the preservation of critical information and digital assets.

While industries such as finance, healthcare and anything security-critical may be devastatingly affected by bit rot and the first that come to mind when we think about where bit rot might hit, there are also other aspects to it. We all like to count on our family photos being safely kept on our disks, so even our personal lives can be affected due to bit rot. And let’s not forget about the possible loss of corporate data that can cause serious problems in any industry.

Read on and explore the preventive measures taken at both the hardware and software levels to prevent bit rot on your devices.

Fast train - Security risk - Koofr blog bit rot

2.) Handling bit rot at the hardware level

Hardware manufacturers take several precautions to minimize the occurrence and impact of bit rot. Find a few notable approaches below.

3.) Handling bit rot at the software level

Software plays a crucial role in mitigating bit rot. Several techniques are employed at the software level to prevent and correct data corruption.

Big folders - How to prevent bit rot - Koofr blog

4.) Preventing bit rot

While hardware and software safeguards help mitigate bit rot, prevention is equally important. Here are some practices to minimize the risk of data corruption.

These preventive strategies can go a long way in preventing data corruption and ensuring data longevity.

Bit rot prevention backup strategy - on computer - Koofr blog

5.) Understanding bit rot

Bit rot poses a significant risk to our ever-growing digital storage and can cause serious and unpleasant information loss. Understanding that bit rot is everywhere and that it can affect all of us and our information severely is crucial. By implementing hardware and software-level measures to prevent and handle it, we can safeguard our most critical data. Bit rot serves as a warning for us users, to implement proper data management processes and practices and stick to them. Either on our own or by using services that do it for us. Only this way, we can preserve the information that is important to us in our businesses as well as our private lives.

And while regular software updates and backup strategies are something you might do and use in your daily life to prevent bit rot and other risks to your data, the rest of the practices mentioned in this blog might seem mind-blowing at best. But, do not fret. Using cloud storage solutions, like Koofr, can help you. Koofr cloud storage uses systematically built-up data safeguarding systems, data checks every step of the way, as well as processes for maintaining data integrity. That by itself can significantly decrease your chances of data loss as well as reduce the stress of you, by yourself, having to take care of it and think of it.

Check out our Reddit community discussion on bit rot.

We also published a Slovenian version of the same article for those who prefer to read it in that language.

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