Backups: When and How to Use Them

Back-up Data

At some point, you will most likely have some computer malfunction that causes loss of some or all of your personal files, documents or photos. Maybe you accidentally deleted the wrong file, experienced a hardware failure, or lost your laptop. Even worse, malware may have infected your computer. In times like these, backups are often the only way you can rebuild your digital life or recover critical data.

What to Back Up and When

There are two approaches on deciding what to back up:

  1. Specific data that is important to you
  2. Everything including your operating system

If you are not sure what to back up then the best approach may be backing up everything. You should also consider how often you want to back up. Apple’s Time Machine or Microsoft Backup and Restore allow you to create an automatic “set it and forget it” backup schedule. Other solutions can allow continuous protection in which new or altered files are immediately backed up as soon as there closed.

How to Back Up

You can store your files in two ways:

Physical Media:

Backing up to physical media keeps your files on a physical storage device, such as DVD’s, USB devices or an external hard drive. Whichever media you choose, never back up your files to the device that holds your original files. It’s also smart to label your physical media with info about the backup and the date it was created.

Some disadvantages to storing on physical media is the possibility of disaster or theft. Physical media can be lost, stolen or damaged just as easily as the original files.

Cloud-based solutions:

Cloud-based storage works by installing a program (client) that automatically backs up your files for you. You can pay for cloud storage providers to store your backups. The price is normally determined by the size of the backup.

The advantage of this solution is in the event of a disaster or theft, your files will be virtually stored off-site. Additionally, you can access these files from anywhere. The disadvantages of cloud-based backups are that recovery can be slower especially if you have a large amount of data and you will also need to ensure that the cloud service provider can store this data securely to prevent unauthorized access.

Recovery

After backing up your data, it’s always a good to be certain that you can recover it. Check every month that your backups are working by recovering a file and validating the contents. Additionally, be sure to make a full system backup before a major upgrade such as moving to a new computer or mobile device or before a major repair.

Key Points Summary

  • Automate your backups
  • When rebuilding an entire system from backup be sure to reapply the latest security patches and update before using again
  • Outdated backups may become a liability so it is recommended to delete these backups to prevent unauthorized access and in the case that cloud storage is used, manage your storage capacity and related costs
  • Be sure to verify that cloud backup and storage providers have security measures in place to protect the data by checking the policies and reputation of your cloud provider:
    • Ask if they encrypt your data when it is stored
    • Determine who has access to your backups
    • Verify they support strong authentication, such as two-step verification