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The WD My Book vulnerability

28 June 2021

The tech wires are reporting that many users of the WD My Book "personal cloud" servers have woken up to find all their files gone.

The My Book is a simple system that allows users to connect and use it as a mass storage system (ie: a big hard drive). In many cases this connection occurs via the household or office LAN setup but it can also be configured to act as a cloud server via the Net.

The promise is that My Book users can access and update/upload their data from anywhere at any time.

On holiday and need to dump files from the SD card in your camera or phone?

No worries, just rock up to the nearest public WiFi hotspot and you can transfer them to your My Book server back at home, in the blink of an eye.

Fantastic... what could possibly go wrong?

Well it seems that something has gone wrong, badly wrong.

Some users have discovered that overnight their My Book server rebooted and now all the (sometimes terabytes) of data stored on them has disappeared.

What went wrong?

WD have acknowledged that hackers are to blame and are recommending that owners unplug their devices from the Net immediately.

Of course that's little comfort to those who have lost their treasured pictures, videos and documents.

Once again however, this raises the issue of backups.

The My Book device isn't a NAS with redundancy and fault-tollerance. It is a single hard drive in a box with some network connectivity and a processor. So why did these people not have backups of their "valuable" data?

Whilst many of those affected seem outraged that their files are gone, why can't they understand that hard drives also fail and that they've always been at risk of losing all that data, eventually?

Perhaps the biggest problem facing modern "device" users is the amount of data these things produce on an almost daily basis.

Take a holiday video with your phone at 4K and that's easily 20GB or more used in just a few short minutes. Record all those Zoom meetings you're a part of each week and another GB or two is created. Archive a month's worth of emails with attachments and once again, the size of your data-make goes up again.

It's so easy just to throw this on an internal or external hard drive and think it's safe -- but it's not.

"Back in the day", we used to back up our floppies by making duplicates of them and running a multi-generational rotation of those disks. When hard drives came along they were still pretty small (10MB or 20MB) so it really wasn't too much of a problem to back them up onto floppy disks that held 1.44MB each so we did it.

Larger hard drives started making things difficult so devices like the Zip drive (100MB per disk) were invented and some folk used tape.

Next we shifted to DVD-RW or DVD-R optical disks so we could do our backups in multi-GB chunks.

Today however, your average computer doesn't have any kind of removable-media disk drive and comes with hard-drives and SSDs measured in terabytes of capacity. How are you going to back that stuff up?

Well I have a big drawer filled with external hard drives that connect and are powered through the USB port. Used to be I'd buy 1TB drives but these days I'm forced to use 4TB ones, just to keep up with the amount of data I'm archiving (thanks to 4K video work).

Even then, I keep my "critical files" on a separate stack of drives which are rotated through a sequence with multiple generations on different disks. Strictly speaking, my video backups are not copies of files on the hard drive, they are archives created when I move files from the onboard 1TB SSD to the HDs for longer-term storage. I have no doubt some of those files will be lost forever when the external HDs die (which they inevitably will) but I am comfortable with that.

The other option is, of course, cloud backups. Fire your critical files off to a Google Drive or some paid online storage service. With UFB now readily available in most areas and an uncapped 1Gbps service quite affordable there are many compelling reasons to avail yourself of such an option. Especially when you remember that even data safely backed up onto external hard drives is vulnerable to the same fire that might take out your computer -- if the worst ever happens.

Rules for backups are: make plenty, keep copies offsite and check to make sure that the restore process works reliably.

If you don't back up your stuff then don't gripe when hardware failure, hackers, malware or an act of god ruins your day.

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