When we first set up in business the question of “when did you last backup your laptop” was generally received with an embarrassed smile and the response “not as often as I ought”. As the cloud and cybersecurity has become more prevalent, the tools are more available and it seems that more people are taking backup seriously. There are, however, still people and businesses who are relying on themselves not damaging their machines and managing to avoid those phishing emails.

What are the options?

Should you backup to the cloud?

Pre-installed back-up apps

Modern Windows machines ship with a backup app installed. Some anti-virus software packages also come with backup programs. Apple has Time Machine.

All these will backup into the cloud or onto an external drive. Most programs make it easy to link up to their native cloud offering (Microsoft to OneDrive, Apple to iCloud etc.).

Do check the size of your potential backup against the amount of space offered for free (and cost of an upgrade).

As with storing photos, backups have a tendency to grow and you do not want your backup to fail. If you want to use alternative cloud storage, check that your preferred program supports it.

Cloud or Local?

The advantage of cloud storage is that you can schedule your backups and do not need to worry about plugging in a device. However, if you have a lot of large files, it may be quicker to backup to a local drive. Just make sure you remove the device and store it away from your computer, preferably in a different building. I use both: backup to the cloud runs when my laptop is idle and then I plug in an external drive once a week.

Why am I backing up?

If your office goes up in flames

Think about why you are backing up and set up your backups accordingly. A continuous backup such as Time Machine works well for recovering old versions of files as it is easy and quick to access.

If you download ransomware by mistake, you want a backup which will not get contaminated with encrypted files. (You are also probably willing to put up with losing some of your most recent work). Damaged laptops lie somewhere between these two extremes.

Note that synchronised cloud storage such as Dropbox work well for file sharing but are unlikely to save you from ransomware. You should not rely on them as your main backup.

What am I backing up?

When setting up your backup, check what is being backed up. Some programs cover everything on your machines while others try to reduce space by only backing up “office” files. If you only use standard Office programs, you are probably safe. If you use other programs, you may have to add their data files extension to the backup list.

There is also a type of backup which takes a snapshot of the content of your disk. These tend to be quick as there is no file-by-file transfer and mean that a new computer can be set up from the image if needed. They are not so good at recovering individual files.

And the gotchas

The main gotcha is security and access. If you are using an external device, encrypt and/or password protect it against theft. Make sure that the password or key is backed up in a different, safe place so you can access it from a different machine.

The same goes for cloud storage: make sure you have a note of your passwords in a safe place so you can log in. An offline hardcopy is good insurance against cyber incidents but not so good if the office burns down.

A final thought

It is said there are two sorts of people: those who backup and those who have not lost anything (yet). Be one of the first group.

Please get in touch if you would like some help in planning or setting up your backups.