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It doesn't take much tobring a business to its knees -- damage to a critical hard drive coupled with an inadequate recovery plan can pretty much do it.

Most companies, however, still don't pay enough attention to data lossprevention, say industry experts, even though simple measures such as backing up, testing the backup and restoring fileson a dummy rather than original system can ensure that files are neither lost nor corrupted.

According to data loss statistics from Framingham, Mass.-based Info Security News, a magazine specializing in information protection issues:

* 93 per cent of companies without a recovery plan go outof business within five years of a data loss disaster;

* 50 per cent of those businesses who do not recover their data within 10 business days neverfully recover;

* Critical business functions cannot continue for morethan 4.8 days without a data recovery in process;

* 32 per cent of all data losses are caused by human error.

So why aren't businesses getting the message?

According to Nick Majors, president of Toronto-based Data Recovery Labs Inc., which specializes in recovering data files andlost information from downed or inaccessible computer storage devices and network servers, the nature of data protection and back-up systems is not very glamorous and therefore tends to beignored -- until, of course, it's too late.

"Back-up's a very inglorious process," he points out. "Companies don't put alot of store in it until they're faced with a massive data loss."

Like, for example, the executive of a major Canadian organization who flew for several days around the world in searchof someone who could help him recover the files on a damaged hard drive. No one could, and what happened as a result is anyone's guess. (Majors doesn't follow upwith his customers.) Often, he says, a lot of the lab's work involves trying toundo the attempted corrections users try to make, such as a job the lab did for a U.S. company to recover data ona Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) unit.

When the system failed, Majors explains, the company started reinstalling various components trying to make it work. But the order of each drive -- therewere several linked together -- was wrong, so the system kept rewriting all the file index information.

On occasion, the very peoplea company entrusts to take care of its precious data -- information systems staff -- are the same ones who get the company in trouble.

It's not because theydon't know what they're doing, says Majors. "They just don't know how easy it is for things to go wrong.

"If they run it (a disk utility) and it comes up with 8,000 error messagesand they say go ahead and fix it, instead of backing off and saying that's not normal ... that makes our work quitea bit more difficult. A lot of the data you're trying to recover could be destroyed."

A similar situation nearly happened at Markham-based Novell Canada in February, when one of the managers lost all the humanresources files on his hard drive.

Mike Robinson, Novell's IS manager, was in Vancouver when he got the call -- just before the manager was just about to run Norton's Disk Doctor utility.

Robinson toldhim not to run the utility but to take a disk image of the damaged drive before taking it into the data recovery lab, where about 99 per cent of the lost fileswere recouped.

The problem with utilities such as Norton's, explains Majors, is that they are intended to fix structures, not recover data.

If the unthinkable happens and a system crashes, Majors offers some advice:

* Don't panic but do check the obvious, such as power, cables and configurations;

* Record the exact wording of error messages;

* Don't boot or run any programs from the damaged device;

* Don't restore your backup to theoriginal drive;

* Let disk utilities identify, not correct problems.

Not all the data recovery lab's workis as mundane as hard drive failure and mistakenly deleted files, however.

Computer forensics, for example, is a small but growing part of the lab's work, which is why a new person is being hired to handle just that area. The lab now receives abouttwo calls a week -- a number Majors predict will soon mushroom -- from lawyers or security agents of a company, askingthe lab to find evidence that an employee has wreaked havoc in the company's computer system or to trace the hacker who took down a company's Web site.

Other jobs have involved a high-levelCanadian criminal trial, during which a critical server crashed.

The lab has even had a request from a distraught woman wanting them to recover files thatwould prove her husband's on-line infidelity.

Sometimes the lab can do a job, but simply won't, as was the case when a newlyelected politician asked Majors to recover all the deleted files on a political foe's computer.

And while many companies may make big promises, the reality of data recovery is that success rates are between 65 to 75 per cent,Majors says.

"Despite claims it's magic, data recovery is a low-tech world; we're manually doing what computers are doing several million times per second."

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