Half of UK SMEs have lost vital data in the last five years

Nearly half (48%) of small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK have experienced the loss or loss of access to company or customer data over the past five years, a study by Beaming, a business-focused Internet service provider, has found.

Firms employing between 10 and 250 individuals have felt the most significant impact of data loss, which has cost UK businesses in excess of £5.3 billion since 2019. These expenses encompass financial fines, costs related to data recovery and replacing personnel or assets involved in such incidents, and the drop in productivity during downtime.

The finance sector, encompassing financial services providers and accountants, has seen the highest incidence of data loss from 2019 to 2023, with 59% acknowledging such events, more than any other industry. The manufacturing sector faced the steepest costs due to data loss incidents, where the median cost per incident surpassed £60,000.

This research is highlighted in Beaming's recent publication – ‘Data Backup & Business Continuity: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ – released before World Backup Day on 31st March 2024. This day is dedicated to raising awareness about data's growing importance and the critical need for regular backups. The report also provides expert advice to aid businesses in enhancing their backup and continuity strategies.

Sonia Blizzard, Managing Director of Beaming, stated: “Data loss occurs for all sorts of reasons, including hardware theft or failure, cybercrime, data management errors and events such as fire or floods. A robust data backup strategy is fundamental to risk management and business continuity planning. It safeguards critical data, supports recovery efforts, and helps maintain a business’s resilience and reputation in the face of these challenges.

“The good news is that more businesses are making more effort to back up their data than five years ago. The bad news is that most haven’t gone far enough, especially given the growing importance of data to businesses today.”

The study, conducted by Censuswide for Beaming, revealed concerning backup practices among businesses. Up to a quarter of businesses do not back up their company data at all. 12% maintain a single copy of data, stored either on individual computers or a lone server. An equal proportion of business leaders admitted to being unaware of any backup strategies in place at their firms.

Only a quarter of UK businesses adhere to recommended backup practices consistently. 22% of companies methodically back up data to an offsite specialist facility or provider, ensuring they fully understand and control backup procedures and data storage locations. Furthermore, 34% use air-gapped backups, physically isolating data from the internet, and 29% encrypt data during transfer to and from their primary site and backup location.

However, about half of the firms engage in suboptimal backup practices, such as not encrypting their data (53%), not backing up data frequently enough (31%), storing backups in the same location as the original data (17%), and manually backing up to external drives or disks (25%), which is susceptible to inconsistency and human error.

Additionally, 28% depend on the basic storage methods provided by cloud services, which typically replicate rather than back up data, potentially not meeting extended compliance needs due to insufficient retention periods. Businesses using Cloud storage often lack the ability to customise security settings or ensure full compliance with regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation.

Blizzard emphasised: “Implementing a solid data backup strategy is essential for business continuity. By following best practices, businesses can significantly enhance their ability to recover from data loss or system failures and ensure continuous operation in the face of unforeseen events.”