Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Digital Preservation: Preservation Risks

An introduction to digital preservation.

Fragile Objects

Preservation in Jeopardy

Digital materials are subject to a wide range of threats and risks, from the simple decaying of an old media tape to the a large scale disaster such as a flood or fire. At the fundamental level are two major risks that we must address in long term digital preservation.

  • Loss of the data object: Physical loss of the 1s and 0s that encode that information. By definition, we must always have at least one fully intact physical copy of the bitstream available. 
  • Loss of the information object: Losing the means to correctly interpret those 1s and 0s as meaningful, authentic information. This will occur if one or more elements of the representation network required by the underlying data objects cease to be available.

Source: Brown, A. (2017). 8.4 The challenge: Threats to preservation. In Practical digital preservation: A how-to guide for organizations of any size (pp. 202-205). London: Facet Publishing.

Risk Description Mitigating Actions
Accident Digital data can easily be changed or deleted unintentionally, through human error.
  • Workflow documentation
  • Organized file structures
  • Managed version control 
Malicious Activity People may attempt to alter data for malicious reasons. 
  • Sound authority control
  • Strong passwords
Media Decay Storage media are subject to physical decay, and may naturally degrade to the point at which data in no longer recoverable.
Media Damage A specific event may cause sufficient damage to the medium to prevent data recovery. 
  • Regular backup of media devices
Bit rot This is a form of accidental damage to stored data, arising from a variety of causes, including natural phenomena such as cosmic rays striking the medium and causing alteration.
  • Regular fixity checks
  • Multiple backups to enable restoration of corrupted files
Media loss Total loss of the storage medium may come as a result of major damage. This might include a range of disaster scenarios, such as fire, flood or earthquake.
  • Backup data to multiple geographically diverse locations
Hardware failure Other forms of hardware - such as servers, drives and network components - are also susceptible to failure. At best this may cause a temporary interruption or degradation of operational capability; at worst it may cause temporary or permanent data loss. 
  • Hardware redundancies
  • Regular backups
Network and service failure The networks we use to communicate may introduce errors during transmission of data, or suffer failures.
  • Network and service redundancies
  • Regular backups
  • Regular fixity checks
Software failure Software is subject to accidental and deliberate errors arising from human fallibility or malicious intent.
  • Software redundancies
  • Regular backups
  • Regular fixity checks
Replication failure Systems to generate multiple copies of the data object may fail. Equally, they may propagate errors originating in one copy to the replicas. 
  • Regular backups
  • Redundant data backups
  • Regular fixity checks
Technological obsolescence Storage media or the technology required to access it the media become obsolete, rendering the content inaccessible and lost. 
  • Maintain legacy access systems
  • Data migration to current technologies
Lack of audit Failure to keep a complete audit trail documenting significant events in the management of the digital object can compromise its integrity, by laying it open to question. 
  • Automated audit logs
  • Centralized management of digital objects within an Archival Management System
  • Regular fixity checks
Disasters Natural and manmade disasters that threaten the fundamental physical infrastructure on which digital preservation systems depend.
  • Disaster management plan

Source: Brown, A. (2017). 8.4 The challenge: Threats to preservation. In Practical digital preservation: A how-to guide for organizations of any size (pp. 202-205). London: Facet Publishing.