Data Storage & Security

Research data is the backbone of a project, and the loss of any information can be incredibly detrimental to the study. It is important to ensure data throughout the research process is stored securely, backed up, and maintained regularly.

It is recommended that you have at least three copies of data at all times. For example the original, one stored locally (external storage devices, network drive), and one stored remotely (cloud storage). Consider how frequently research data will be stored, the different locations where it will be stored, and how much space the project will require. More information about data storage and backup best practices can be found on the Boston University Libraries & University of Oregon Library website.

When storing your research data consider whether it contains any personal or sensitive information that could directly or indirectly identify an individual or organization. In the event that the data does contain personal or sensitive information restricting access and encryption are popular methods of ensuring the data is stored securely. Learn more about handling and storing sensitive data at the University of Ohio's page.

Other considerations when storing your research data is file and folder organization. Avoid generic file and folder names as these might conflict when they are moved to a different location. Create names that reflect the contents, and are unique, meaningful, and brief.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are different ways of storing my research data? 

Research data can be stored both electronically and physically. It is highly encouraged that all data is stored in multiple locations and checked regularly to ensure it is usable. Physical storage includes CDs, USBs, while electronic storage includes server backups, cloud storage, hardware storage. 

How often should I store my research data?

Research data should be stored regularly to multiple locations during the data collection phase. Volumes of data that accumulate rapidly should be backed up and stored more frequently (ex. daily).

How can I guarantee my research data is secure?

There exist different approaches to data security, which are dependent on the storage location of the data. The first step to data security is controlling access to the files and ensuring appropriate security measures are in place. For more information explore the UK Data Archive.

Are there necessary precautions I should take for storing personal and sensitive data?

Anonymisation of data is often essential for storing any that might be personal or sensitive. This is done by removing key personal identifiers. A personal identity can be disclosed from direct identifiers (name, address, telephone number, pictures) and indirect identifiers (when linked with other publically available information could identify an individual). Also ensure data is store locally as opposed to on third party servers where you are unable to restrict access. Extra measures can be taken to encrypt your data, learn more about handling and storing sensitive data at the University of Ohio's page. There are concerns that even with anonymization, if enough metadata exists identities can be revealed. An article addressing the degree of anonymisation here. Other techniques include removing direct identifiers, restricting upper lower ranges of variables to hide outliers, and reducing precision/detail of the data through aggregation/generalisation.

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