Online Security FAQs: Backups Now More Important than Ever

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Everyone with a bit of sense knows backing up is important, what with all the pundits droning on about it for year after year… backups protect data, blah blah, due diligence and responsibility to your clients, etc.

Given that we live in the real (busy) world, there’s another consideration to add – convenience. And simplicity would be a nice bonus, while we’re at it.

Backups done properly can protect against a multitude of risks – not just equipment failure, but fire, theft, accidental deletion (or even malicious deletion…), malware attack, and more. But only if they’re done properly!

If your backup media is located in the same place as your computer, then unless you possess a signed deposition from the future asserting that fire and theft will never occur in your home or office, you have no backup.

Your backup media needs to live elsewhere. And this, in turn, can introduce additional security concerns – where is it kept? Maybe the IT guy takes a tape home every night, or every week; or what if he just leaves it in his car?

If you have no backup plan, you need to get started immediately – don’t even finish this article until you have, at the VERY least, copied your essential documents to a portable hard disk or high-capacity flash drive. Take that drive home tonight, or at a minimum, put it in your safe.

That’s also one of the simpler ways to get a rudimentary backup plan going – get at least two high-capacity flash drives (64GB should be plenty for most systems, expect to pay $30-$40 each) and just drag your documents and folders over to one of them, then take it home. The next night, do the same with the other, and bring the first one back the following morning. Make sure that at least one copy is offsite at any point in time.

Let me stress that this would be very minimal – you’re not guaranteed to preserve all your application data, you forego all the double-checking and error correction that proper backup software offers, it’s manual and eventually annoying and your protection against theft of data is basically hoping it doesn’t happen… but it’s still better than nothing. On the scale, it’s one step above “insanely irresponsible”.

Hopefully most of you have better backup plans in place – automated software that monitors changes in your system every day and applies them to a copy stored elsewhere. Hopefully this is regularly tested and monitored by a competent IT person. Hopefully there are a few copies of your data stored safely offsite. Hopefully if this is the case, you wouldn’t have bothered to even read this far…

It’s not terribly difficult to create a backup system. Windows comes with a serviceable backup utility, and Macintosh computers have Time Machine, which is intended to serve a slightly different purpose but is more than capable enough to do the job. Each has good help files to get you going, and of course there’s a how-to for everything on YouTube these days!

 

Tip: enable encryption on your backups, so if you lose the media,
your data is not public

You can use commonly-available portable USB hard drives, starting at around $50, to store your files. You could also use writeable DVDs, though they are slower to create and we’re trying for the quick-and-easy methods here.

You will still need to have someone regularly moving the data off-site to someplace safe. It’s an essential aspect of making data safe, and if you want to make THAT convenient, there’s really only one way to go: online backups.

Online backup services exist, where for a nominal fee your data is backed up security offsite, sometimes almost continuously as you make changes through your day. However you need to take some factors into consideration –

  • Bandwidth. You may have tens or hundreds of gigabytes of data allowance per month, but how much of it are you routinely using up? Your hard disk may also have tens or hundreds of gigabytes of data… this is one reason why online backup services are more popular in countries like the United States where “unlimited” bandwidth plans are common
  • Depending on your upload speed, it may take weeks for the initial backup to complete, after which only changed files are sent
  • Depending on the applications you use, you may need to look into how the backup client and service handle databases. Many applications, especially ones which manage financial data, use databases internally (this certainly includes most MYOB software!) and backup software needs to be aware of how to cope with stored information of this kind

If those concerns are not relevant or can be mitigated in your case, offsite backup services are an excellent way to go. The convenience and effectiveness of this approach is well worth the modest fees.

Archival storage (anything more than a couple of years) can be a more challenging issue to address. Here are just some of the reasons:

  • Burnable DVDs are not guaranteed to last more than a few years
  • Backup tapes are more robust but correspondingly more expensive
  • Hard disk drives are reliable, inexpensive and hold a lot but are physically delicate

You’ll want to consult someone experienced when it comes to storing records for longer than a few years, since your specific needs and risk tolerance must be balanced against cost and convenience, and technical considerations can’t be glossed over.

But the bottom line is, you’ll be glad you did it!

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