World Backup Day - are your important files backed up?

Filed Under: Data loss, Featured

World Backup Day 201431 March is World Backup Day, a campaign to persuade us to be more careful about keeping backups of our precious data. The day's catchphrase is "Don't be an April Fool" - urging us to ensure we all have good backups in place in time for 1 April.

Backup basics

If your storage system fails, both in business or at home, any valuable data could be lost for good. So it's essential to back up your data.

Important backups need to be kept separate from master copies. They should be stored on a different medium from the master, and in a different location.

They should certainly not be on the same hard drive, as that one device becomes a single point of failure for the whole set of data. Backing up files locally can provide a quick recourse in the event of accidental deletion, corruption or unwanted change, but you should think of them as spare copies rather than proper backups.

Proper backups need to be elsewhere - not just on a different device, but in a different location. On-site backups again have their place, but will be at risk from events that could take out the master too, such as fires or power surges.

Proper backups should ideally be kept not only on a different storage device, but on a different type of storage.

If you back a CD up to another CD, a nasty outbreak of geotrichum candidum could take out both copies. SSDs and flash drives have different risk factors than magnetic platter hard disks. These risks can be mitigated by using multiple storage methods.

It's not enough just to make a copy of all your eggs and put them in a different basket though. You need to make new copies frequently to keep the spare eggs fresh, and you need to check the basket is holding up well too.

If you keep using the same backup device for too long, the likelihood of it dying on you goes up and up.

You might think that all businesses would be aware of the need to securely backup their important data, but CryptoLocker has revealed issues at all kinds of firms and institutions, most notoriously including a local police department in the US.

Basic backups

CryptoLocker hammers home the importance of backing up for home users too.

We all have things we'd rather not lose - family photos or that half-written novel you've been working on - and it seems many people will pay out good money to get them back if threatened with their permanent loss.

It doesn't have to be like that though. Backing up should not be daunting - the most precious stuff on your hard drive is likely to fit onto a handful of cheap DVDs or USB thumb drives, or a single fairly low-cost external drive.

If storage cost is an issue, remember that not everything on your computer needs to be backed up - things like music and movie collections might be annoying to replace, but unlike personal photos, sound recordings and home movies, they're not irreplaceable.

For most of us, just putting these backups in a safe place at home will be enough, but if you want to go the whole hog, keep the backup somewhere else - at your workplace, at a friend or relative's house, in a bank vault if you're that way inclined - and you're done, different medium, different location.

Remember though, if your backups are kept somewhere fairly public, it's a good idea to encrypt them to make sure your files are kept private as well as safe from loss.

All that's left is to repeat the process regularly. Monthly is a good target to aim for, but the more often you back things up, the less you'll lose if there's a disaster.

Better backups through technology

To reduce the workload of regular backups, a range of tools is available to make things easier for you.

For the sort of money CryptoLocker victims have been bullied into shelling out, they could probably have picked up an entry-level NAS (network-attached storage) system. More sophisticated versions will have multiple hard drives using RAID (redundant array of independent disks) to ensure data integrity even if one of the drives packs up.

If your storage device is accessible from your network it may be at risk from the same threats facing your master copies, including CryptoLocker, so consider only turning it on when you need to make or recall a backup. For extra security, disconnect yourself from the internet and check your system thoroughly for malware before connecting to the backup system.

Similar money will get you ample storage (for a while at least) at a cloud backup service. Many providers will offer limited space for nothing, some even give away more space as a reward for various things, such as introducing new users.

With these online systems, the location and hardware integrity problems are taken care of by someone else; the only question is whether you can trust the provider to keep your data both secure and private. You also need to remember to keep the account alive, usually by paying a regular fee.

The NAS and cloud approaches both have the benefit of allowing automated backing up on a schedule, assuming you keep the NAS always-on, or are lucky enough to have one which can be set to power up only during the backup time window.

So, if you're not the sort of person who can maintain a regular regime of manual tasks, these technologies may be preferable.

If you don't mind burning a disc or two, or popping in a USB stick now and then, of course do so. Maybe consider using both home-made and cloud backups to be doubly sure.

If you've never done a backup, follow World Backup Day's advice and make 31 March the day you get started.

And while you're doing it, sing the backing up song.

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9 Responses to World Backup Day - are your important files backed up?

  1. Sayville Library · 520 days ago

    I've become obsessed with backups since CryptoLocker, I can't afford to have my mission critical files locked. Even at home where I use Windows 7, I spent the entire weekend trying to recover some user files after a re-image of C. Windows 7 backup is quite a maze, MSFT does not provide much useful information, but after 30 years of dealing with MSFT, I was pretty sure there was a way to restore individual files. There is but you have try a dozen permutations of restore to accomplish the feat. Anyway, BACKUP, BACKUP, BACKUP! It's the only way to recover from disaster.

  2. 2072 · 520 days ago

    Note to self: "Don't touch CDs or DVDs after eating cheese unless hands are clean".

  3. "Geotrichum candidum"... are you serious?

    • A pretty unlikely one I know, meant more as an illustration of the dangers of monocultures than a warning of impending CD doom. Cheese-eaters should be able to continue doing so, in relative safety.

  4. Laurence Marks · 520 days ago

    I don't understand why the big deal about CryptoLocker. Surely OS updates and good AV should protect users from this.

    • Sayville Library · 520 days ago

      I think using 'Cryptolocker' is a synecodoche for all possible disasters. Yes, your antivirus and updates should protect you, except for the next cryptolocker or zero day.

  5. foo · 520 days ago

    On World Backup Day, are we supposed to drive everywhere in reverse?

    • Steve · 519 days ago

      On World Backup Day, the sewer backed up into my basement. Ugh!

  6. hotdoge3 · 519 days ago

    World Backup Day one day a Year as it a big job right click a file and send to USB

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About the author

John Hawes is Chief of Operations at Virus Bulletin, running independent anti-malware testing there since 2006. With over a decade of experience testing security products, John was elected to the board of directors of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organisation (AMTSO) in 2011.