Several years ago, I discovered that I had accidentally deleted my photos from my personal computer. Fortunately, I was able to use a recovery tool to get most of them back, but it was a bit scary and a lot of work, and I don’t know what I lost that I was unable to recover. Today is World Backup Day, and I figured I would take some time and cover what I believe is a decent scheme to make sure you have good backups.
The bottom line is you really need four instances of your data:
-Your working copy on your main computer
-A regular backup in a different location
-Two copies that are offline
Why so many copies? Well, there are at least fifty ways to lose your data. Most computers use a 1-2 drives that are not mirrored, so a disk failure means data loss. This is the most common way to lose a boat load of data. There’s just the usual threat of things degrading, see, for example, this article that a friend shared with me about file corruptions. And there’s also malware, crack, liquid spills–I could go on, but you get the idea.
So, ideally, you want a backup that’s running at least daily for your important files, and that will protect you from most of the usual failures. But for this kind of backup, mostly people use external drives or online service like Dropbox or iCloud, and these are prone to ransomware or data corruption from other malware, or an active cracker, as Matt Honan found back in 2012.
To protect against those threats, you should have a couple of copies of your data offline. For this, I use a bare drive cradle and a couple of disks–they stay at home, and every couple of weeks, I bring one into the office and run a backup of my workstation. I use two, because sometime one of them will fail, like the time one of the cats knocked one of these drives off the shelf. Since these are offline, they aren’t very prone to most malware. (But not all–something like Ripper would still be a threat.) These are really for diaster recovery.
And if you really want to be secure against data loss, you might also consider using a cloud backup service like Crashplan. These provide better protection against basic cloud storage since they can keep versions of your file going back, some for years after a file is deleted.
This all sounds hard, but it really isn’t. First step is get some external drives and some free software to automatically run backups. (See the links below for some options.) Rotate a couple of those to somewhere else where they are secure and you’re mostly there. Then, add cloud backup if you really want to keep your data safe. And finally, do a restore every once in a while to make sure things are working the way you think they are.