Data security

Educating End-Users on Where Not to Save Critical Documents

safe-dataThe terms "shared" or "network" folder probably don't mean much to the average office computer user. The perception of the computing world from a non-technologically oriented person is that it's getting so incredibly complex so quickly, that one could never even hope to keep up with the basics of everyday operation.

One of the ways that thinking seems to manifest itself most evidently is in terms of where users feel they can safely save documents so that they're backed up.

Centralized Backups

Since backing up data costs money, most small to medium sized businesses backup their data by using a select few network folders to store their most important data which is then made available to end-users as a file share.

The problem is that most users have no understanding or concept of this structure or process, and will more often make the assumption that their own personal computer are being backed up, and are one and the same.

In the business world, personal office PCs are not typically backed up, simply because of how difficult it is to monitor and delegate disk space on numerous machines. You would simply end up with too much unnecessary data being duplicated.

When Users Save Documents

Since that's the case, this becomes a huge problem when users think that their desktop and my documents are the two safest spots for their sensitive data. Again, the "average" office user will save their data here (no matter how important it is), 90 percent of the time or more.

It never occurs to them to ask for a share on a network drive with a shortcut to their desktop, so unless you spell it out for each and every employee, there's going to be some important files that slip through the cracks without getting backed up.

Whenever that data is lost, who gets in trouble? If you were responsible for backing things up, the blood is on your hands.

That being said, how does IT staff and network administrators educated end-users about where to save their data? Here are a few ideas.

What to Tell End-Users

The best strategy is to simply start with the truth. If you have a massive file share where all the important documents are stored, just make your users aware of that in plain English. Send an email explaining "How we save important files" and make the concept as clear and non-technical sounding as possible.

Also make them aware of the perils of saving sensitive or important documents and files to folders on your own personal computer that aren't backed up. If you need to, draw a graphic with their names by their computers, the server and big red Xs to mark what is backed up and what is not.

As simply as possible, explain to them how centralized data sharing and backing up works, and hope that they understand it.

Users understand icons on their desktop

Now even if you do an excellent job of that, you're going to have some users (maybe most of them) who won't change their approach at all.

They'll still save PDFs to their desktop, and they'll still get upset if one goes missing and you don't have a backed up copy ready to jump in and save the day.

That's just the way it goes.

So a good follow up to your informative email about what's actually going on is to put things in terms that they can understand more naturally: Folders on their desktop.

With a network file share you can make a folder for everyone in the office on that file share and call it "Username My Documents". Once you do that, go to each individual user's computer and make a shortcut to that folder on their desktop, then simply tell them to place any important files in that folder, and that it will be safely backed up on a regular basis.

This is a simple enough procedure for most users, so you'll have a much better participation rate than if you simply try and explain the file share.

Offer a disclaimer and let users worry about it

At some point, you need to put the ball in their court. The best way to do this is to send an email making your users aware of the places on their computer that are not safe to save files. Just tell them plainly, that your desktop and my documents are not being backed up and any files you keep only there are at a greater level of risk.

This is a good follow up to the other two methods listed, as it's a last ditched effort to get people nervous enough about their data to actually seek out information for themselves.

If you send this email and they're worried enough about it, they'll come to you genuinely interested in understanding the structure. For the people who don't come looking for answers and still continue to save important documents where they won't be backed up, all you have to do is say "I told you so" when data goes missing.

It's not the noblest sounding gesture, but if you go through all these steps, you can say with a clean conscience that you've done your due diligence.

Hope for the Best

Thankfully, people losing work from their own personal PC doesn't happen terribly often, but when it does, you need to take the opportunity as the technological brain on staff to educate your users about how to avoid this catastrophe in the future.

Make sure you've told them your piece and then hope they do the right thing. You'll always have some who won't, but at least you can minimize the damage.

Benson Garrod is a digital content strategist for, a company offering data recovery services in Washington, DC, Boston, NY, and other major cities. He enjoys keeping up with the latest trends in data recovery, smart phone apps, new gadgets, and other fun tech stuff!

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