Back It Up: Keeping your files safe

Back It Up: Keeping your files safe

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You spill a glass of water on your computer. Your laptop is stolen. Your phone just doesn’t start up one day. What do you do? Do you have all your pictures and important files backed up somewhere?

There’s an old saying that no one cares about backups until it’s too late. But if you take some steps today, you can be prepared for these disastrous but very real scenarios.

Rule of Threes

Having a saved copy of your files on a USB stick is a good start, but to be even safer you want to consider the Rule of Threes for backups:

3 copies of important files
If you follow the 2 formats + 1 off-site backup, this will come naturally.

2 formats
Having everything on your USB stick is great, but what if you lose that, too? Consider having an external USB hard drive (cheap on Amazon or at BestBuy) or cloud backup as well.

1 physical off-site backup
This is a long-term backup. It won’t be updated every day because you physically don’t have the drive with you all the time. This is important if your home is, for example, broken into or suffers catastrophic damage. Keep this copy somewhere safe and trusted: with a family member, or in a safe deposit box. The location should also be convenient so you can swap out the backup every month or so with the latest copy.

Cloud Storage

Most computers and phones come with some sort of included storage plan from their manufacturers: iCloud for iPhones & Macs, OneDrive for Windows, Google Drive with Android. You might have also heard of services like Dropbox.

If you’ve got these hooked up to your device and they’re constantly syncing and updating your files, these are not backups. If your files are erased on your device and it syncs to that service, then your files are deleted on all your other devices, too.

You might be able to restore your photos and files on another device, and they’re convenient. I’ve used iCloud sync to set up a new iPhone automatically many times. But I don’t trust it as a permanent backup for all my files.

External Storage

The simplest backup you can do for your computer is buying a USB stick and copying your files to it from your computer. Do this regularly and you’ll at the very least have a copy of files that are important to you.

Better yet, also pick up an external USB hard drive. You can set your computer to use this as a backup drive. On a Mac, you’ll use the built-in Time Machine feature. On Windows, use the Backup feature. Don’t leave these drives plugged in to your computer all the time: a virus or bug could easily wipe them out! Set a calendar reminder for yourself to plug them in and leave your computer on overnight once or twice a week. Then unplug them the next morning when you start your day.

Cloud Backups

Cloud backups are different than cloud storage. Using a service like Backblaze, some software will run on your computer regularly to send your files to the service. If you lose a file, you can go on their website to download a copy. If you lose all your files, you can pay them to send you a hard drive overnight with all of your files. It’s not cheap, but it’s convenient.

Before using a cloud backup (or cloud storage), consider the security of your files: While unlikely, data breaches do happen. And the government can request files from these providers. Backblaze, mentioned above, goes further with its encryption, using a personal key that only you have to unlock your files. (You’d want to store this in your password manager.)

Don’t rely on a cloud backup company as your only backup, either. I used a service called CrashPlan that simply went out of business, forcing me to trust them to delete all my data and then I had to find an alternative.

Back up your phone

The above advice is admittedly computer-centric. What about your phone? The simplest thing to do is take the extra step of backing up your phone to your computer first. This makes a copy of everything on your phone – including your messages and photos – on your computer, and that’s included in your computer’s backups!

For an iPhone, it’s easy. If you have iTunes, you’ll do a backup by clicking your phone in the iTunes sidebar and starting a backup. Otherwise, you’ll do it in the Finder. Apple has great instructions on their website. A key thing to keep in mind here is checking the “Encrypt local backup” button and setting a strong passphrase. You’ll need this to restore your phone in the future, so keep it in your password manager.

On an Android, it’s naturally more complicated and involves some technical steps. AndroidAuthority has the most complete instructions. Scroll down to the “Backing up to your computer” section.

Make it a regular thing

A backup is only good if it has recent copies of your files. You might think you have better things to do with that time, but consider how much time, information and energy will be lost if you have to recreate all your files and realize you’ve lost your photos!

Set a calendar reminder for yourself to do your backups. Like any habit, it takes time to get into, but it’ll be a regular thing in no time. You’ll thank yourself later!