If you own one of Western Digital’s (WD) My Book Live external hard drives, you should put this article down and go unplug it. Take it off your home network, cut the power entirely, whatever you have to do — it could mean the difference between keeping your data secure and losing it completely.
Many My Book Live users have reported this week that all data is being randomly deleted from their external hard drives. Just completely emptied. Gone. It’s every hard drive owner’s worst nightmare: that all your backups would up and disappear. And it’s happening to a lot of people.
Reports of the mysteriously disappearing data began racking up on the official WD Community forum yesterday, when one user posted that they woke to find all their data had been wiped and the device’s login information had been changed. Others responded with similarly harrowing tales. Their devices had seemingly been factory reset — many around the same time on June 23 — with no hope of recovering that data.
Hard drive backups are meant to provide peace of mind. It’s going to be very difficult for WD customers to trust the company after such a fiasco, whether or not the actual event was unavoidable.
Nothing to be done, now — Western Digital has now confirmed that it is aware of the issue. “We have determined that some My Book Live devices have been compromised by a threat actor,” the company told Gizmodo Friday morning. “In some cases, this compromise has led to a factory reset that appears to erase all data on the device.”
WD is recommending that customers “disconnect their My Book Live devices from the Internet to protect their data on the device.” For the many users who have already lost their backups, this isn’t exactly helpful.
The horror stories in the WD Community forum are depressing, to say the least. Users feel totally helpless, watching years of data (sometimes terabytes of it) just… disappear into the ether. There is no recycling bin for external hard drives. It’s just gone.
Why was this internet-connected at all? — In its statement to the public and its customers, Western Digital makes note that the My Book Live received its last firmware update in 2015. That is a lifetime in internet time. There’s a good reason modern internet devices receive firmware updates all the time — to keep them secure.
When WD discontinued the My Book Live firmware six years ago, the company should have made it abundantly clear to users that their devices would no longer be safe on the internet. Given how many people are apparently still using them for large backups, that message does not seem to have been communicated effectively.
Hacks happen all the time. They’re an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence of the unrelenting expansion of the internet. But customers are going to be looking for some answers — they just lost years’ worth of data, after all.
This ordeal is also a prescient reminder to keep some sort of non-connected physical backup of your data. Relying on cloud solutions or otherwise internet-connected ones, as in the case of My Book Live, is an easy recipe for disaster.