Secure data storage

Processes to protect electronic and hard copy data in all forms, including questionnaires, interview tapes and electronic files from being accessed without authority or damaged.

Advice for using this method

Protecting against damage

The two main disadvantages of digital storage media are that digital formats are unreliable and subject to failures, and over time file formats and storage devices will become obsolete.

To protect against these dangers, the UK Data Archive (Van den Eynden et al. 2011, p. 18) suggests that best practice is to:

  • Convert digital files to appropriate file formats (see below)
  • Transfer digital data to new storage media every two-five years to guard against the degradation devices
  • Set up regular checks on the integrity of data files
  • Use two separate forms of storage for data
  • Create digital versions of paper and analogue data (see backup)
  • Label and organize items in storage clearly
  • Make sure that the physical location of storage systems is appropriate, and protected from natural events such as fire or flood

Protecting against unauthorized access

Another important consideration in the storage of data is the protection of data from unauthorized access, theft, or unintentional destruction of data. 

There are three main security considerations to keep in mind: physical data security, network security, and security of computer systems and files.

The UK Data Archive (Van den Eynden et al. 2011, p. 19) recommends researchers take steps to ensure that:

  • The physical location of data storage is secure with controlled access and a system where records are kept of the removal of and access to data.
  • The transporting of physical data or data storage systems is limited to necessity.
  • Digital data are not stored on externally networked servers or computers.
  • Operating systems have necessary firewalls and security systems to protect against malware and viruses.
  • Computer systems are password protected
  • Power surge protection systems are in place
  • Restricted materials are encrypted
  • Restricted data is only transferred in an encrypted form, and the transfer of data through email and File Transfer Protocals (FTP) are avoided
  • Users and managers of data sign non-disclosure agreements


Van den Eynden, V., Corti, L., Woolard, M., Bishop, L. and Horton, L. (2011). Managing and sharing data: Best practice for researchers. UK Data Archive, University of Essex: Essex.

'Secure data storage' is referenced in: