We live in a digital world. Many people have a large number of digital files that are important to their lives: digital family photos, e-mails, personal writings, business files, financial records, etc. What if a power surge during a storm kills your hard drive? This is not uncommon; it has happened to me. I had a full back-up of my entire hard drive, so that I did not lose my data. Do you back-up your hard drive?
In a previous article, Computer Security for Disaster Preparedness, I discussed ways to back-up your data, including a “hard drive image” that will preserve all programs, files, settings and the entire operating system. In this post, I would like to discuss survival — the survival of your data if there is a severe disaster, something more extensive than a power surge or a hard drive crash.
Any local back-up of your data is subject to many of the same dangers as the computer itself: fire, floods, tornadoes, theft, etc. That is why having an off-site back-up of your most important files is crucial. One approach is to copy those files to an external hard drive, and then keep the drive in a bank safety deposit box. For this option, choose an actual hard drive, not a USB drive or an SSD (solid state drive). My experience has been that the external hard drive is more reliable for long-term data storage.
But a simpler and less expensive approach is to secure your data “in the cloud”. In other words, you copy your important files to a server somewhere on the internet, typically far from your home. The better cloud services will have redundant back-ups of all their server files, so that they are not vulnerable to the same type of disaster-caused file losses as your home or business computer. A few examples of cloud data storage services:
Amazon Cloud Drive – 5 GB of free storage, includes a desktop application that handles the uploading and downloading of data in the background. Additional gigabytes of storage space is inexpensive. Cost for 100 GB is $50/year.
DropBox – 2 GB of free storage, but with a 0.5 GB increase for each referral, up to 18 GB. Cost for 100 GB is $99/year. DropBox integrates will with your operating system. A folder on your computer represents the storage space in the cloud. Just drag and drop files into that special folder and they automatically upload to DropBox.
Apple iCloud – works with all Apple devices, as well as Windows PCs. 5 GB of free storage; 55 GB total for $100/year.
Google Drive – offers 5 GB for free; beyond that, you are paying per month. You must have or sign up for a Google account to use.
Please note that pricing and terms for each cloud drive service are subject to change. Check with each company for latest prices and terms.
There are many other cloud drive services. This article is not a review of those services, but rather some tips on using cloud storage for your data.
First of all, never rely solely on a password and username to secure your data in the cloud. There have been many recent instances of security breaches in which millions of customer usernames and passwords were obtained by hackers, who then publish that data online, for any other hackers to use. Examples include Yahoo data breach compromises passwords of 450,000 users and Data breach at LinkedIn.
Choose a secure password. Use upper and lower case letters, numbers, and at least one symbol. Do not use the same number repeatedly (e.g. 2222). Do not use consecutive numbers: 1234, or 4321. Do not use a name or a word from the dictionary.
If your digital files are important to you, encrypt them before backing them up. Create a back-up folder on your computer. Copy all your important files to that folder (make sure you are copying, not moving the files). Then determine the size of the folder with all its data. Create an encrypted file container of a somewhat larger size. Copy the back-up folder to the encrypted container. Then upload the container to the cloud.
To create the encrypted container for your files, use TrueCrypt — free high-quality encryption software.
Retain the separate back-up folder, unencrypted, on your computer, so that you will know which files are in the cloud. This also allows you to update the back-up, and re-upload the latest version of your files. Make sure to update your back-up frequently.