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What should I do to protect my data?

Laptop lost - protecting your dataSome data are sensitive or confidential and extra precautions should be taken to ensure that they are appropriately protected. Data security includes network security, physical security, computer files and systems security. The costs alone of reproducing, restoring, or replacing data that has been stolen, lost, tampered with, etc. and the length of recovery time in the event of a theft highlight the need for protecting the integrity of the data.

The protection of data can be improved by taking the following precautions:

  • Maintain up-to-date versions of all software and media storage devices, and ensure that your anti-virus/firewalls are updated regularly.
  • Record the original creation date and time for files on your systems.
  • Regularly back up electronic data files (both on and offsite) and create both hard and soft copies.
  • Lab notebooks should be stored in a safe place.
  • Computer files should be backed up and the backup data stored in a secure place physically removed from the original data.
  • Samples should be appropriately saved so they will not degrade over time.
  • Do not transfer or store confidential data on the internet or in cloud storage.
  • Notebooks or paper questionnaires should be kept together in a safe, secure location away from public access, e.g. a locked filing cabinet.
  • Make sure that access to buildings and rooms where sensitive data or research specimens are stored is restricted.
  • Use file checksums and hashes to help ensure that your data files have not been altered or corrupted in any way. A checksum is a number that is calculated by an algorithm that analyses your file. If nothing about the data file changes, you should be able to recalculate the checksum at any time, and the number will always be the same. If you recalculate the checksum and it is different, then you know the file has been altered or corrupted in some way. 

    Free tools that will generate checksums and hashes for your files include:
Image: courtesy of Flickr user RemixDave, available at [accessed 11/06/2014], used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence, adapted to obfuscate personal data.


Research Data team

University of St Andrews Library
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St Andrews
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Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: (01334) 462343