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UMass Amherst Libraries

Managing Your Data

Take care of the products of your research -- the tips here will help your work be available long into the future!

Store Your Data With Confidence

Protecting your data

Ensure your data maintains its integrity and consistency

Protect your work from unintended data loss or corruption. 

There are steps to ensure the integrity of your data when transferring between instruments, computers, or to another storage system. Transferring data multiple times increases the likelihood that data will be lost between transfers. 

Other factors can render data inoperable.  As little as one bit “flipped” can change your data, and physical data - like punched cards - can physically rot and decay. Some factors to consider:    

Concept           Explanation Tips to protect your work
Bit rot The gradual corruption of data stored on a computer. Corruption occurs slowly due to non-critical errors, like single flipped bits. Single errors on their own may not render the data unreadable, but over time, the accumulation of these errors will render your data inoperable. Store the data that you must share in a data repository, or in a place that has mechanisms in place to ensure the longevity of your data
Disc rot Over time, CDs, DVDs, and other disks become unreadable due to physical or chemical deterioration. Transfer data from these media every five to ten years.
Software rot Software and code that is not regularly updated eventually becomes faulty, unresponsive, or unusable. This is due to the complex nature of operating systems -- as operating systems become more sophisticated, software must be adapted to new standards to continue to perform. When this doesn’t happen, it can be difficult -- or impossible -- to access and reuse data. Use software that is standard in your community.

Use well commented and regularly maintained code.

If using un-stable or proprietary file formats, note the name of the software you use, the version, and what operating system you used to collect, analyze, or otherwise manipulate the data you share. These can all be important factors in ensuring the use of your data in the future.

Questions to think about: 

  • How many times do you transfer data between computers, instruments, etc.?
  • What steps are in place to ensure the validity of data between transfers?
  • When will you migrate data to another medium? 
  • Do you know the lifespan of the technology you have selected? The failure rate?
    • Note that while CDs and DVDs have an estimated lifetime of over 30 years, this is under stable conditions. CDs or DVDs that see a great amount of use, are exposed to environmental factors like light, heat, or humidity, or are otherwise stored inappropriately will have a shorter lifespan.
    • The lifespan of an internal or an external hard drive is difficult to estimate, but Backblaze has been running a study on hard drive reliability since 2013.

Protect against data breaches, phishing, and other security issues

Protect your work from breaches of security or confidentiality. 

This means recognizing if you collect any sensitive information, detailed personal data, politically sensitive information, or trade secrets, and documenting how you will protect this information. 

Breaches of data and loss of confidentiality don’t only happen at the large, corporate level! Something as simple as leaving a computer station unlocked can expose an entire system to ransomware, and malicious software (or “malware”), phishing, and malicious advertising (or “malvertising”) can expose you and your work to risk.  Be sure you are aware of campus data security policies

A complex password will do a great deal to protect you as well, as longer passwords are more challenging for computers to guess. Password managers, like KeePass, can be important tools, too!

Questions to think about: 

  • Do you use a personal desktop or laptop to collect your data, or one that is university-owned?
  • If you are collecting research data on your machine, you must must have specific information security controls in place and functioning. This is true if you are using personal equipment and university-owned equipment.
  • Where are you physically located when you are working with your research? 
    • Unsecured wireless or even leaving your laptop screen unattended in a shared, public space can open your work up to risk.

Protect human subjects data 

Human subjects data requires special planning, care, and dissemination in order to ethically share.

First, be in alignment with your IRB proposal and your consent forms. If you did not get consent from your participants to share the data, you may not be able to share the data -- even anonymized. This may put your publications at risk, as there is a history of retractions for inability to produce original data

There are special stipulations for sharing human subjects data openly. Few repositories allow for openly sharing human subjects data, and if they do, there are several tasks you must complete in order to ethically share data. For example, human subjects data, if shared openly, must not contain any direct identifiers, and have a maximum of three indirect identifiers. Consider the information going into your manuscripts as well, which may provide more contextual information that could lead to deductive disclosure. 

Questions to think about: 

  • Do you use a personal desktop or laptop to collect your data, or one that is university-owned?
    • If you are collecting research data on your machine, you must must have specific information security controls in place and functioning. This is true if you are using personal equipment and university-owned equipment.
  • Where are you physically located when you are working with your research? 
    • Unsecured wireless or even leaving your laptop screen unattended in a shared, public space can open your work up to risk.

Activity

Foundational security controls. 

Do you have the foundational security controls installed on your computer? Use our spreadsheet to keep track of your machine and any machines you manage. 

Further Reading

Ensure your data maintains its integrity and consistency: 


Protect against data breaches, phishing, and other security issues: 


Protect human subjects data: