Nobody likes to lose their stuff.

Since the inception of computers and CAD, design data has been stored in unencrypted files on desktop hard drives or on servers physically located inside the walls of the building where you work. The contents of those design files are your intellectual property and the lifeblood of your company, so there is a certain amount of resistance within engineering departments to store data outside the company firewall.

These concerns are understandable, but are clouded by the constant news reports of hacking, which focus on the theft of personal consumer data. What you don’t hear about is the millions of data files being lost or stolen from normal businesses every day, because it doesn’t affect the general public. This may be going on right under your nose and you don’t even realize it.

Desktop systems today are used not only to run CAD, but also to read email and browse the web. Today’s designers share numerous, uncontrolled copies of CAD data with other designers, manufacturers and part suppliers. Workstations are used by multiple employees and contractors. Laptops travel with us wherever we go, frequently connecting to insecure networks. All these are avenues for viruses, network attacks, data loss and theft of IP.

Hackers breaking into an online system leave a trail, so it’s much easier to discover an attack and take steps to prevent it happening again. Files however, have no such protection or tracking. Here are four common ways that your files can go missing:

    1. Sending Files to Customers or Suppliers
      Every time you send a file to a customer or a supplier via email, FTP or even a secure file-sharing service like Dropbox (which is secure during transit and storage), you are creating copies.

      Many businesses choose email as their preferred method of communication for convenience reasons, but email attachments are probably the most insecure of all file-distribution methods. Once you send a file to your supplier for them to manufacture, there are uncontrolled copies everywhere.

      First, when your message lands in their inbox (Copy 1), you have no idea if their security protocols match your security protocols. They may not use firewalls or even password protect their computers, so you have no idea how easy it would be for someone to hack into their system and access their email. To open the attachment, they download it to their local computer (Copy 2). They may need to forward it onto a colleague (Copy 3) or access the file on the shop floor (Copy 4). They may want to work on it over the weekend, so they copy it to a USB stick (Copy 5) and then copy it to their personal PC at home (Copy 6). Copies upon copies upon copies. Even if you use FTP or Dropbox, your supplier will still follow the process above, so there are no added benefits there.

      Never mind the inconvenience of email attachment size limits and worrying whether your supplier is using the latest copy of the file to make your part. You should worry more about where those copies are going. They could be inadvertently forwarded to your supplier’s other clients, one of whom could be your competitor!

    2. Transferring Files Using External Media
      If you use USB sticks, DVD+RW discs (do people still use those?) or external hard drives to transfer data to and from different computer systems, that’s just as bad as email. In fact, add laptops to that list, too. Any hardware item used to transfer or transport data outside of your company firewall is a big risk. These items can be accidently left behind in a public place, easily stolen from your car or hotel room, or be destroyed by any number of means.

      You are also at the mercy of the same file-copying issues that arise from using email, FTP or Dropbox. There are ways to partially address this (e.g. using VPN to log in to your server remotely), but you still need to download files locally to your laptop. Through no fault of your own, you’ll have multiple uncontrolled copies of the same files – all susceptible to theft or loss. In addition, without strict version control, you could be working on an out-of-date design.

    3. Dealing With Disgruntled Employees
      Disgruntled and ex-employees pose one of the biggest risks to your security. When employees leave a company, it is not always on good terms. Physical and IT security are only effective if they are supported with robust procedures, and these are very important when employees leave.

      In fact, a survey from Osterman Research discovered that 69% of employees use a personal account for a file-sharing service like Dropbox to store sensitive company data, and 89% of employees retain login details for at least one company system after leaving (and still have access to that Dropbox account). Of those respondents, 6% admitted to sharing that data with their new employer or others – a sobering thought! There is also the risk of ex-employees maliciously deleting files from company servers before they leave, especially since there is no tracking or logging of this kind of activity. 

    4. Experiencing Hardware Failure and Human Error
      Sometimes data loss has nothing to do with espionage or theft. There are inherent problems associated with files such as corruption or deletion that can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage in lost time and revenue. This can happen for numerous reasons, many of which are completely random and out of your control.

      With traditional file-based CAD, it is estimated that up to 30% of a company’s CAD files become corrupt or go missing over their lifetime. This can be largely negated if you buy your vendor’s expensive PDM add-on product to manage your data, but the cost of licensing, administration, and IT infrastructure take this out of reach for many companies. Therefore, Windows Explorer and network drives are still the data management tool of choice for most. So how do 30% of files become corrupt or go missing? The most common cause for corruption is software crashes while saving data to a file. While files don’t really go missing, they are just inaccessible due to hardware failures or human error.

One of our competitors, SOLIDWORKS®, recently came out with an infographic on data loss. Here’s a closer look at the reasons they say CAD files vanish or become damaged beyond repair:

Vendors of legacy file-based CAD systems like SOLIDWORKS use this data to convince their customers to buy costly PDM add-ons that don't really solve the problem. As long as your CAD data is stored in files, these issues will never completely disappear.

Surprisingly, even with this much data loss, almost half of companies do not backup their data regularly. This is mostly due to IT administration, available infrastructure and costs. When files do go missing or become corrupt, the trusty backup is the first port of call. However, backups can also go wrong with up to half of backup data itself becoming unrecoverable. Even if you can recover your lost data, it can take several hours to locate and restore the missing files.

All this adds up to a tidy sum in terms of lost time and potential revenue.

How much does it cost for your entire project team to sit twiddling their thumbs all day waiting for IT to recover the data? Or worse, how many days or weeks does it take to start from scratch and recreate all the missing data?

All of these issues can be moot – if you’re using a database-driven, full-cloud CAD system. Onshape automatically saves your work (down to the last mouse click or keystroke) on redundant servers and you can always restore your design to any previous stage. If your computer dies, you can just login to another computer, phone or tablet and keep on working.

Interested in learning more? Join me at this week’s webinar, “Crashes and Data Loss – What if it Happens to You?” Looking forward to hearing your questions!