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What Is Data Corruption?

Data corruption is an error in the storage of information on a computer, which can lead to crashes and loss of files.
Data should be backed up onto a CD in case data corruption occurs.
A computer hard drive can suffer from data corruption.
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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Data corruption is the term used to describe any kind of error in the storage of information on a computer device. There are many different causes of data corruption, including hardware problems, software problems, and user error. Many computer operating systems have tools for dealing with data corruption, although they aren’t always effective. In many cases, people may have issues with data corruption and never realize they’re having a problem. If people allow data errors to propagate without fixing them, they can eventually lead to operating system failure or other major issues.

There are some major signs that point to a data corruption problem. For example, someone may find that he’s unable to delete or open a file on his computer. He may also find that his computer is suddenly acting very slowly, and things are taking a long time to react. There are many other things that can cause these symptoms, but corrupted data is one of the more common.

Any sort of hard drive problem has the potential to cause data errors. Hard drives have moving parts, so they tend to eventually fail. This can happen gradually or suddenly, and in either situation, data corruption will be one of the main symptoms. When a hard drive fails, sometimes it is possible to save some of the data, and sometimes it isn’t.

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In many cases, users can cause data errors themselves with the way they handle their computers. For example, people sometimes turn off their computers without going through the shutdown mechanism. When this happens, the computer may be in the middle of writing a file to the hard drive and interrupting that process will often lead to corruption. Computer users are usually unaware that small file operations are constantly going on in the background, and these are particularly susceptible to this kind of data error.

Another common cause of corrupted data is operating system error. Many operating systems are set up so that they serve as a buffer between software programs and the hard drive. This buffer exists to protect the drive from data corruption, but when the operating system itself is prone to causing disk errors, this isn’t quite as helpful. One common way for operating systems to cause data errors is crashing or freezing up. When this happens, users often have to restart their computers by power cycling, and this can lead to data corruption in the same ways mentioned previously.

Software programs can also cause data problems, although they often do so indirectly. Since operating systems are often regulating any disk-writing operations, it can be difficult for programs to write corrupted data directly to a disk. A more common way for this to happen is for a buggy program to cause the operating system to crash, forcing the individual to power cycle. In rare cases, a program will find a way to get past an operating system’s protections and write corrupted data.

There are also programs written specifically to harm someone’s data. These include viruses and malware programs. People often design these programs so that they can bypass the protections of operating systems and write corrupted data to a drive. They may do this as an act of revenge or as a prank.

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