How to Backup Your Data Safely and Securely

There’s a computer maintenance mantra that’s often ignored, and any techie you talk to can tell you what it is; backup, backup, backup.

In an increasingly tech-reliant age, it’s becoming more and more common for people to put their entire lives on their hard drives, from pictures of family vacations to mission-critical business documents. However, there’s a big problem with this type of practice: hard drives fail.

And, before you ask, yes thumb drives, floppy disks, Zip disks, and pretty much anything else you can think of will also eventually fail. One of the worst assumptions you can make is that your data is safe when it’s only contained on one medium.

So, you backup, backup, backup. But here’s the sad truth: for every person who backs their data up correctly, there are a hundred who are making a big error that’s going to cost them eventually.

What exactly is backup? Believe it or not, this term is misinterpreted by quite a lot of people. “Backing up” a file is creating a copy of said file on another medium. It is not simply moving that file around; many of my friends claim to “back up” regularly, when actually they’re just moving files from their computer to their external hard drives. This is a great way to free up space, but an external drive is as likely to fail as an internal drive.

The best forms of backup are automatic, because people make errors, and contrary to popular belief, computers do not. Programs like Dantz Retrospect create periodic copies of files onto external drives and other medium-you can set them up so that when you’re sleeping, your computer is copying your important pictures, documents, and whatever else you need onto your external drive. If your internal hard disk fails, you’re golden; simply install a new hard drive, and your files are waiting for you on your external.

There are also automatic online backup systems. These usually consist of programs that log onto the internet at a set time and copy your files to a server. Should your drive fail, you log on to that server and download your files. The major advantage to this form of backup is that the server isn’t local, so if your house floods or catches on fire, your data is safe. However, you’ve really got to have a very fast internet connection in order to do this, and the monthly fees can be fairly expensive.

Manual backup is less secure than automatic backup, but if you’ve only got a few crucial files, it can do in a pinch. Invest in a thumb drive or other form of flash memory, and make a habit of copying your files over about once a day. Flash drives are much less susceptible to shock than a hard drive, although they can still fail. Many people keep a thumb drive on their key chains; this is a great way to carry your crucial files with you wherever you go.

One of the most important things you need to remember about backup is that files need to be checked for consistency. A file transfer can go poorly and only copy part of your data over, leaving you with a corrupt file that’s virtually useless. If you use automatic transfer, check your files about once a week or so. Make a habit of it. Remember that your files are only safe if you can see that they’re safe.

Professional data recovery costs upwards of $1500, and isn’t always completely successful, so a few bucks towards a backup method and getting into a good habit can save you a lot of future frustration and money. Make sure that you’re backing up correctly and securely, and you’ll rest much easier for it in the end.

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