Transport for NSW backup procedures still include floppy disks in 2020

In response to a ZDNet enquiry, the NSW government entity has removed, and later reinstated, the document that detailed the backup requirements for CADD data which asked its staff and contractors to use tape or floppy disks.

The New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) Policy for the Backup of CADD Data highlights the importance of data backup, noting that data stored on computers can be lost or damaged due to "user error, viruses, software failure, hardware failure, or damage caused to the computer hardware by fire, water, theft, or vandalism".

According to the document [PDF] prepared by the now-swallowed Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), which is used internally and by any consultant performing work for RMS -- which merged with Transport for NSW (TfNSW) in 2019 -- the most valuable part of any computer system is the user's data.

"The expense in recreating the user's data can be far greater than the expense of replacing hardware and application software. In the event of a disaster it is important to be able to restore a user's working environment as quickly as possible to allow the continuation of work," the policy reads.

"To ensure a level of security for CADD data stored in an electronic format on a computer, it is important to implement a backup strategy."

This is accurate advice to staff and contractors: Data is important and security of that is important.

The NSW government added that it was not averse to digitisation, being responsible for Service NSW, the poster child for government digital service delivery in Australia. However, the document used in 2020 by staff and anyone responsible for CADD data within RMS/TfNSW asked to follow the guide, was produced over 15 years ago.  

The policy guides users through the level of backup that is the minimum to be adopted for all CADD data within the organisation, describing how the backups can be performed, which files should be backed up, as well as the types of media and how to maintain the backup media. The document states its purpose is to detail how to protect data that is actively utilised on CADD file servers.

The document said it requires four sets of backup media for daily incremental backups, four sets of backup media for weekly full backups, and three sets of backup media for monthly full backups.

Dated April 30, 2004, the government policy explains that most of the CADD data prepared within the RTA is generated on PCs running Windows 2000, which reached its end-of-life in July 2010, a year before the RTA was merged with RMS.

The CADD data, as well as other project data, the document explains, is stored on file server running Novell Directory Server V 4.90.0.401.

The policy's preferred media for backup is tape.

"Tape devices provide an economical and efficient form of backup. The media is inexpensive and generally accommodate large amounts of data," the policy explains.

The types of devices that can be used for backup under the policy are: DLT Tape IV, CD-ROM, DVD single or dual layer, and a 90mm floppy disk.

ZDNet reached out to TfNSW, suggesting it was time the document was updated and asking how many floppy disks are procured annually.

"The policy has been superseded and will be removed from on line. Transport for NSW does not use floppy disks," a spokesperson said. 

No superseded document was provided. 

Information provided under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act) showed that the Backup of CADD Data document was removed after ZDNet reached out to the department. It has returned to being available, however, at the time of publication. 

The information released under GIPA also showed that the current Backup of CADD Data policy was updated in 2013 and has not been published publicly. The 2013 policy is "currently under review", emails between TfNSW staff shows.

Rather than sending ZDNet a copy of the 2013 document that is "currently under review", TfNSW provided a screenshot covering two of its pages. Asking to see the "new" -- 2013 -- policy documentation in full, TfNSW said its current backup policy for all systems was "covered under our Information Security Standards Policy".

Included in the communication back and forth is the mention of cloud, with a project underway to replace the current TfNSW solution with Storage-As-A-Service one in GovDC and Tiered Cloud Storage.

"We will reach out to the Digital team and Engineers to have this taken down," internal email referencing the original CADD document in question, shows. "Given the moves to Cloud a new policy is probably required in the short to medium term. The 2013 policy needs an update as it too is out of date and refers to old IT policies from before the cluster was formed."

Members from the department discussed sending the information back to ZDNet via fax or floppy disk, and said if they could catch a carrier pigeon they would have taken that option.

This article will be updated when the pigeon arrives.

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