Back It Up? Here Are NINE Good Reasons (and ANSWERS to YOUR backup questions)
Do I Really Need to Back Up My Files?
Bob Rankin wrote the first edition of my ebook Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS in 2010 because he is passionate about making sure that important files — programs, documents, emails, contacts, music, photos, and financial records — are NEVER lost due to a data disaster.
My goal was (and is) to teach people how to make backups easily, inexpensively, and automatically. The all-new 7th Edition of Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS will be released in just a few days!
And I’m excited because I believe that my plain English explanations and instructions will guide both advanced users and even the most non-technical readers to success with backups, and trigger a “Wow, that was easier than I thought!” response when they’re done. (A few years ago, one of my readers called me a “Translator For the Technology Impaired” — maybe I should get that on a t-shirt!)
Over the past twelve years, I’ve received some really great questions about backups from AskBob readers. I’m going to answer some of those questions here, but first, let’s get into my list of reasons why you need to make backups.
NINE Good Reasons for Backups
1. Unlike Diamonds, Hard Drives Are Not Forever. — Studies on hard drive life expectancy show that 22% of hard drives will fail in the first four years, due to factory defects, random failures, and parts that wear out. Failures due to factory defects tend to happen in the first 18 months of service. Yikes. How old is your hard drive, and how lucky do you feel?
2. Viruses, Power Surges, And Natural Disasters Happen. — Ransomware is spreading like wildfire online. It will lock all your files, and permanently delete them if you don’t pay a hefty ransom within a few days. Power surges can scramble data or zap files. Fires, floods and F5 tornados can tear the stuffing right out of your shiny electronic gadgets.
3. Stuff Gets Lost Or Stolen. — Even the most reliable hardware and top-notch virus protection won’t help if your laptop, tablet or smartphone falls into unfriendly hands. Only a backup will save your bacon.
4. Mobile Gadgets Break Or Get Wet. — Have you ever dropped your mobile phone in a dirty slush puddle, taken it for a swim in the ocean, or treated it to a wash/spin/dry joyride? I have. Have you ever dropped your laptop, watched it fall in slow motion, hoping that it will survive the fall? Been there, too.
5. Passwords Get Lost. — You followed the advice of the experts to use unique, secure passwords for your computer and your online accounts. But then you forgot… was it “2Much-L0ve4U” or “2Much-4U-2Love”? Dang it!
6. Accounts Are Compromised Or Frozen. — Your password was “PASSWORD” and you’re surprised you got hacked? Sometimes for no discernable reason, people get locked out of their Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook or other online accounts. Was it a software glitch, a denial of service attack, or did a hacker gain access to your account? You may never know. And without a backup, you may never again see your saved emails, contacts or files. (Yes, you CAN back up your passwords and online accounts.)
7. Data Breaches Are Becoming Commonplace. — Every week, it seems there’s another high-profile data breach, resulting in millions of usernames, passwords and other critical data becoming public. Equifax, Yahoo, Target, Chase Bank, American Express, Home Depot, Apple, Sony… who’s next, and how will it affect you?
8. Human Error. — None of us are immune to the occasional finger fumble, brain freeze, or senior moment. Files or folders may be accidentally deleted, and sometimes you don’t notice until it’s too late.
9. Incorrrect Assumptions. — I’ve learned that some people just assume that their computer is automatically making backups. If you didn’t do something to make it happen, it’s not happening. And many users who do have some sort of backup routine are not backing up the right files, or all the ones that need protection. (And do you know what ELSE you should be backing up, in addition to your hard drive? I have a list.)
Your Backup Questions Answered
I’ve received literally thousands of questions about backups from AskBob readers. I can’t answer all of them here, but I’ll highlight some of the most
interesting and common ones below:
Q: “I only back up documents and photos. I feel that the operating system and other program software can be reloaded if necessary and settings can be reset. What is wrong with this logic?”
A: Nothing, if you’re geeky and have all the time in the world. But if your hard drive fails, you’ll need to re-install the operating system, apply any needed security patches, reconfigure any customizations or settings, then install all your programs. Locating the installation media and license keys can be a big hassle. Only then can you restore your data files from backup. That process can take many hours, and often requires a bit of technical know-how.
Q: “How can I know if my backup program is working properly?”
A: Most backup programs have a “verify” option, which tests the integrity of the backup image immediately after it is created. You can also test your backup by browsing through the backup image file, and examining a selection of files.
Q: “What exactly is ‘The Cloud’ and how safe is it?”
A: Cloud storage or cloud backup refers to files that are stored on an Internet website (sometimes called a server) instead of your computer’s hard drive or other local storage. The term “cloud” is used to create the impression of a giant hard drive in the sky, which provides convenient access to files that reside on the Internet. Examples of cloud storage providers are Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox.
I maintain that data stored in the cloud is MUCH safer than files stored on a local hard drive. Do you use 256-bit encryption for your sensitive files at home? Do you have a staff of highly-trained professionals constantly monitoring your computer for break-in attempts? How about strong physical security that includes gated perimeter access, 24×7 on-site security guards, and security cameras? Do you have a fire detection and suppression system, backup power, and a disaster recovery plan in the event of hurricane, flood or earthquake? You can bet your cloud storage provider has all that and more in place to safeguard your data. It’s probably much easier for the NSA to hack into your home computer than to get into any one of these cloud servers. Some people point to all the high-profile breaches reported in the news, but it’s important to note that none of those compromised companies were cloud service providers, who focus on data security above all else.
Q: “What is the difference between a full system backup and a file backup? What is the difference between what *should* be backed up and what *must* be backed up?”
A: In a nutshell, a full system backup (or image backup) includes EVERYTHING on your hard drive — the operating system, program files, and your personal files. A file backup usually refers to a backup that only includes personal files such as documents, spreadsheets, music, photos, etc. That’s better than no backup at all, but my recommendation is to make regular image backups, followed up with a series of “incremental backups” that catch any changes since the full image backup.
Q: “If I get hit with ransomware or other malware, will that also affect the backups on my external hard drive, thus making recovery impossible?”
A: Yes, that can happen. Ransomware can lock you out of BOTH your hard drive and any attached devices, including your backup drive. That’s why I recommend backing up your backup. One way is to have two external drives, which you swap out weekly or monthly. That’s unfortunately a manual process, but I discuss other options in my ebook, to protect your backups from ransomware and accidental deletion.
I’ve heard lots of reasons for not doing backups. The most common one is “I’ll do nothing and HOPE for the best.” But there’s a problem with that. (Actually 9 problems, see above.) HOPE is the strategy of the fearful, the uninformed, and the procrastinator. In this case, “doing nothing” is almost certain to lead to disaster. BUT… if you knew you could protect ALL your information on ALL your devices with little or no expense, and make it happen automatically, wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have CONFIDENCE instead of HOPE?
Other people say “Backups are too complicated or time consuming.” That might have been true 15 or 20 years ago. My first backup system used a tape drive that took forever to run, was prone to error, and was hard to set up. After that, I tried making backups on diskettes, CDs and DVDs. That was a hassle, and I never remembered to do it as often as I should have. But today we have “plug and play” devices that will start making automatic backups as soon as you plug them into your computer. Getting started with an online backup service is almost as easy, and both options can be configured to run at night, or when your computer is idle.
Another one I hear often is “Backups are too expensive.” As I mentioned earlier, there are some really good free backup software options, and some clever ways to access gobs of free online storage. Don’t trust your data in the cloud? A 1-terabyte external hard drive costs less than $50 now. Still too expensive? How about a 128GB USB flash drive for about $20?
Let’s Talk About This…
I want to hear from you about backups! If you’re already doing regular backups, strut your stuff. Post a comment below and tell me about your personal backup strategy. Are you backing up everything, including social media, cloud storage, passwords, device drivers, and mobile data?
If you’re not, or you have questions about backups, you’ll find practical help and answers in my ebook Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS (7th Edition) which will be released in just a few days! Keep an eye on your inbox for further news.