You Must Have Data Backups

If you own a Western Digital (WD) My Live Book backup drive, you may have had a rude awakening last week when you found all your data erased. (If you do have one, but haven’t been hit by this, you should immediately unplug your drive from the internet and monitor the WD support page on this issue.) So I thought this would be a good time to review the basics of backups.

Redundant Backup Strategy

So much of our lives are digitized now: photos, documents, addresses and phone numbers, home videos, medical records, financial records, and much more. Many of these things cannot by replaced if lost or corrupted. That’s why it’s so crucial that we back up of these files. Analog or physical things can be torn, stained, dirty, and so on and still be at least partially recoverable. Digital files are binary in more ways than one: not only are they composed of bits and bytes, but generally speaking they either work or they don’t – all or nothing. Thankfully, being digital makes them much easier to back up, so whenever possible, we should have more than one backup of the truly irreplaceable files.

There’s a specific “best practice” for backing up important data called the 3-2-1 Backup Rule. It goes like this. You should have three (3) copies of your most important files: the original and two copies. You should use at least two (2) different types of storage: internal hard drive, external hard drive, network drive (NAS), cloud drive, thumb drive, etc. And at least one (1) copy should be in a physically different location, like offsite storage or in the cloud. This is to guard against things like floods, fires, storm damage, theft, ransomware, viruses, and so on.

How to Set Up Your Backups

Here is what I do personally, which is also what I recommend for most people. I have my primary copies on my computer’s internal hard drive. I have an external hard drive running Apple’s wonderful Time Machine utility, which backs up basically everything on my computer. (The Windows version of this is called Backup & Restore.) And then I also have a cloud backup service, which is my offsite backup. I personally use Backblaze, but I’ve read good things about iDrive and Carbonite, as well. (Cloudwards has some good reviews.)

So I have three copies of all my key files: my computer, my external hard drive and my cloud backup. I use at least two different storage mediums (hard drive and cloud drive). And at least one of my backups is offsite (the cloud one). In the past, I’ve used two different external hard drives, and just rotated them in and out every month. I’d keep one of them at work (offsite). But cloud backup costs have come way down and internet speeds have gone way up. Cloud backup is the easiest and more reliable option for offsite storage.

Maintaining Privacy

One final note. I don’t like other people having access to my files. While most cloud services do encrypt the data you store there, they also hold the encryption key. So I choose cloud services that allow me to set my own encryption key. This means that no one from that company can actually see the contents of my files. It also means that if I ever forget that encryption key, then the files are essentially lost. They still exist, but they’re completely unusable. I’m okay with that trade-off. I generated a long, random key and stored it in a LastPass private note for safe keeping.

For this same reason, I use for cloud file syncing (as opposed to more popular services like OneDrive, Google Drive, DropBox, or even iCloud Drive). It’s basically a fourth copy of my key files, and it’s encrypted so that only I can read the files.

[NOTE: If you get or give a referral for Backblaze, you get one month free for each one – up to 12, I think. If you don’t have a referral buddy, you can use mine – click here.]