Online Security Part 11 – To Go Forward You Must Backup

This silly quote used to be a trademark of the Dantz Corporation, the creators of one of the first backup solutions I used in the 1990’s called Retrospect. Those were the bad old days of tape backups costing thousands of dollars in hardware and software. Today it typically costs less than $60 to protect a computer’s priceless data such as photos, correspondence, and financial documents. That’s the price of a 1 TB portable USB external hard drive and the software is free with all modern computers. The process of setting up a backup system is also simple so if you’re not backing up your computer, stop what you are doing, visit your local office supply store or electronics store, and buy one.

Welcome back. If you are using an Apple laptop or desktop computer, plugging the drive into a free USB port should automatically pop-up a window asking something similar to, “Do you want to use My Backup (1 TB) to back up with Time Machine?” Time Machine is Apple’s name for their free, built-in backup solution and “My Backup” is the name of the drive you just plugged in (so it might be different). It takes a couple hours for the first full backup to complete, but after that Time Machine works invisibly behind the scenes making a copy of every changed file every hour. This is not only great for recovering from rare major issues like a hard drive crash, but also for more common issues like an inadvertently deleted file.

Amazingly, if you ever have to do a complete restore, it puts a computer back to the exact state it was in when the last snapshot was taken. It really is like a time machine! More details can be found on Apple’s support website (and the website 9to5Mac), but it is obviously super simple to setup and very powerful to use.

If you are using Windows 10, Microsoft has a similar option called “File History.” By default it only backs up files in a user’s home directory, but that is still very useful. To set it up, select the Start button, select Settings > Update & security > Backup > Add a drive, and then choose an external drive or network location for your backups. You can find more information on Microsoft’s website.

Unfortunately, a single backup is not sufficient to create a robust recovery system for digital and physical disasters. Most experts recommend using something called the 3-2-1 rule. This means three copies of all data are made on two different types of media with one copy stored “somewhere else” such as “in the cloud.” For example, to keep that wonderful photo of your kids with the family dog safe, one copy would be on your computer hard drive, a second copy would be on a backup drive, and a third copy would be stored “in the cloud” through a service like iCloud, Google Photos, Dropbox, or CrashPlan.

Personally, I use a combination of Dropbox to backup critical files, iCloud Photo Library to backup photos, and a series of three backup USB external drives that I swap weekly. Is this overkill? Maybe, but the few times I have had to restore a computer from a backup, it has been a godsend, saving a day of tedious work restoring files and settings. Also, while the extra security is nice, daily benefits include photos that automatically transfer from phone to computer and Dropbox files that can be accessed from a phone or tablet anytime, from anywhere.

Finally, while there are hundreds of options available to “recover” from malware, nothing beats reformatting a hard drive and restoring files from a known, good backup. Malware is devious and many malware removal companies are devious too. This last topic will be covered in the next part of this series on online scams, but if you are still reading this and haven’t backed up yet…