Data is now everywhere and we store pretty much everything as data. Contacts, diaries, music, photographs, videos, conversations, business records, everything is data. In fact more and more people are shredding the paper copies of everything they have and going digital with scanned copies of important documents being much easier to store. Unfortunately this also makes this data and information much easier to lose!
In this multi-part article I'm going to look at best-practice strategies for backing up your important files and documents. I want to start with the home and begin this part by looking at some of the devices we now have our data stored on. In years gone by it was just an Internet-connected PC on which you stored information. Now however we have laptops, netbooks, tablets and smartphones. All of these devices have personal data on them.
Now it's not always easy to back data up on tablets and smartphones, though some services such as HP's TouchPad do back your data up securely by default. You can also get third-party backup software for these devices. More often than not though you will find that the data on these devices is almost always duplicated elsewhere, such as in your email account. It's best in these cases then simply to make certain that these devices are protected by a secure password. To create a secure password use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols and make the password at least eight, preferably ten or more, characters.
This leaves out desktops, laptops and netbooks. Now these computers are most likely running either a version of Windows or Apple's OS X. Both operating systems are secure by default. You should always make sure you have a strong password on any portable computer however and also preferably on a desktop PC. This won't stop someone getting at your data if they remove the hard disk, but it will make it difficult for the average thief.
Home users will commonly not have access to the encryption technologies available to business users with the Professional and Enterprise copies of operating systems such as Windows, so have to rely on passwords alone to keep their data secure.
With backups however it's very easy and important to make sure that you have backups of all your files and data. In previous years people have used CDs and DVDs to store backups. I don't recommend this any more. These mediums are prone to data degradation over time and under certain conditions, such as heat or cold. Hard disk technology has dropped in price considerably in the last few years however and a good-sized external hard disk can be bought for under $100.
Keeping regular backups (ie. settings either an automated backup solution using software such as Windows Backup or setting yourself an alarm reminder) once a month or maybe even more frequently is a fantastic routine to get into. It doesn't take much time or effort to make a backup once you have it running.
You might wonder though what you would do with this external hard disk once you have your backup? After all, if you have a burglary or a house fire it too could be destroyed and surely an online backup service such as Mozy or Carbonite would be better. If you don't have a large file collection then online backups are excellent. For everybody else though it can take months, or even longer to back up all your files online. Also when it comes to restoring them should your computer be lost or damaged, can also take days or even weeks.
Thus my recommendation, while you can use this in concert with an online backup service, is to store this external hard disk somewhere secure but off site, away from your home. Perhaps you can keep it with a family member or close friend. Try to avoid the obvious locations where thieves may look, such as the back of the wardrobe. Perhaps the bottom of the sideboard could be more hidden away.
Then once a month or so you can bring the hard disk back for a day or two, update the backup and send it away again. This way, not only do you have a safe and secure backup, even safe from a house fire, you can also restore your files quickly should you need to.
In part two of this article series I'll look at good backup strategies for small businesses.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.