Adobe's iOS Lightroom crisis shows need for backup

Enterprise and personal users should backup often and verify new software before they install it.

Apple, Adobe, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Lightroom, App store, backup
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Adobe has entered the worst of all possible worlds with a Lightroom app software update that's irrevocably wiping out people’s images and imaging presets in a process the company has had to admit means those assets are “not recoverable."

There's a lesson here for mobile users, both corporate and otherwise.

Lightroom goes dark

First, a little background:

The problem affects Lightroom users on the iPhone and iPad, not other platforms – and only if those users have not already synced their assets to the cloud. In other words, if you have backup, you can recover your data.

And if you don’t, you can’t.

What Adobe said

A company response posted to Adobe’s forums said:

“We are aware that some customers who updated to Lightroom 5.4.0 on iPhone and iPad may be missing photos and presets that were not synced to the Lightroom cloud.

“A new version of Lightroom mobile (5.4.1) for iOS and iPadOS has now been released that prevents this issue from affecting additional customers.

“Installing version 5.4.1 will not restore missing photos or presets for customers affected by the problem introduced in 5.4.0.

“We know that some customers have photos and presets that are not recoverable. We sincerely apologize to any customers who have been affected by this issue.

“If you are affected by this issue, please refer to the information this forum thread.”

While the company says it “sincerely” apologizes for the problem, Lightroom customers who were not using cloud-based or any other form of backup service aren’t particularly thrilled with that response. Now, it’s possible just a very small number of users were impacted, but we don’t know that.

Adobe does tell customers they might be able to use their own iOS iPhone and iPad backups to recover photos and presets, but my thoughts are with any photographer enduring this uncertainty.

Always, always backup first

Adobe’s cautionary tale shows the importance of three things enterprise IT spends a great deal of time trying to explain to employees, particularly those now working remotely:

  • The need to back data up regularly;
  • The importance of verifying software updates before they are installed;
  • The need to think before permitting software updates to install themselves automatically.

We’ve looked at the need to back data up before.

Even at the start of the pandemic an astonishing 73% of SMBs had not put an enterprise resilience strategy in place. This certainly includes maintaining and developing policies around the need to regularly run local, online and redundant backups, and the importance of routine daily, monthly and weekly backup cycles.

Your data is your business – and just as an undisclosed number of photographers possibly woke to find they’d lost their work thanks to the Lightroom update, an emergency situation can wipe out your data-based business overnight.

Don’t skip software verification pre-install

It’s also possible that some affected users had set Automatic Downloads of their apps to "on" in iTunes & App Store Settings on their devices, which means the destructive update will have installed itself before they can stop it.

That’s a classic example of why so many enterprise IT teams insist on verifying software before approving it for installation.

This may sound counter-intuitive to many on Apple’s platforms who have become accustomed to installing OS upgrades almost immediately, but it remains true that when you upgrade software you open yourself up to unexpected risks.

Most developers put software through rigorous beta testing cycles, but the Lightroom incident is not the first time a fault has slipped through – and I absolutely do not want to unduly single that company out. Every software developer has at least a similar story to tell.

This is why it’s good to test and verify updates before installing them on mission-critical machines. This is also why enterprises should consider insisting employees disable automatic downloads of software and update manually once verification has taken place.

(Apple now hides manual app updates inside the iOS Account section, at the bottom of which you can review all available updates.)

Up next

With so many businesses now relying on remote workers, it has become more critical than ever to develop and deploy regular backup routines and nurture good software management practices.

Most Mobile Device Management solutions help IT centralize much of this process. The use of Managed Apple IDs can enable employees to use their devices as they please while providing a line of protection to corporate assets. We expect Apple to continue its focus on enterprise security, particularly following the Fleetsmith acquisition.

If you are working with mission-critical data, please backup and verify new software releases before you install them. And I truly hope affected Lightroom users find some way to get their data back.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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