Ministry of Labour loses e-mails

A computer failure is being blamed for the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s loss of an undetermined number of e-mails between 9:00 p.m on Aug. 16 and 6:00 a.m. on Aug. 18.

The ministry doesn’t know specifically what caused the problem at this point, explained Ministry of Labour spokesperson Patrick O’Gorman, but he added that it looks like there was a problem with a hard drive on the Ministry’s e-mail server.

“It was right around the time of one of our regular daily back-ups. [The server] had some kind of system malfunction that caused the hard drive to be destroyed, so we had to restore all of the information going back to the previous back-up,” O’Gorman explained.

Due to the malfunction, O’Gorman said e-mail that had been received largely on Tuesday was lost because it would have been sent after the previous back up.

Ministry workers realized what had happened early Wednesday morning when they weren’t able to receive any e-mails, O’Gorman noted. The incoming e-mails starting Wednesday morning were then routed to a different server within the government where they were stored until the Ministry of Labour’s system was repaired.

Situations like this, where either equipment or people have failed, are common, according to Bill Margeson, CEO of CBL Data Recovery Technologies in Markham, Ont. He said it is now important for the Ministry to do an assessment of its risk “and then throw the right hardware at the problem.”

Implementing redundant array of independent disk (RAID) technology was one suggestion Margeson made to help ensure that data recovery will be simpler in the future if the same error were to occur. Margeson said this process is increasingly important in a time when he said his motto is “IT happens.”

“[RAID] is a way of tying the disk drives together creatively so that if one of the devices fails, and it happens…within the RAID scenario the other drives will carry on and there is no data loss, one device can crash,” Margeson said. “However it seems [the Ministry] has only one drive, which tells me it may not have been perceived as that critical a loss scenario.”

When speaking with clients and finding out what they want from a data recovery system, Margeson said they often forget about e-mail. But “they will need it,” he noted. “People live and die by e-mail these days.”

“Data is so costly if they lose it….The cost of a redundant system would be far less than the cost [the Ministry] has gone through over the last few days,” he added.

There is no way of knowing how many e-mails were lost so the Ministry’s O’Gorman suggested that people who are concerned that their e-mails weren’t received by the government should simply resend the information. O’Gorman also reassured senders that e-mailed notes containing confidential information were not compromised or sent anywhere else — they were completely destroyed.

The affected offices and agencies of the computer malfunction included: all Ministry of Labour offices in Ontario; the Ontario Labour Relations Board; the Office of the Employer Advisor; the Office of the Worker Advisor; the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario; and the Grievance Settlement Board, among others.