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"Why Should I backup My Data?

By Jon V. Klein



In a world filled with risks, threats and malicious hackers, there really is no way to be 100% protected from the damage or loss of data.  Risks and threats we can’t prevent can be mitigated.  Data loss can occur at the most unexpected times and due to many different reasons (man-made/natural disaster): power surges, loss of power, fire, flood, malicious attack, human error and of course software and hardware failure.  Bottom line; all data is susceptible to loss or damage.


So, why should you backup your data?


If you’re a business owner, the loss could cause negative operational impact; you could lose the ability to bring in new customers or keep the ones you already have, it could create a financial burden, loss of income, customer bill tracking and payments, or you could incur great legal cost due to the loss of federally mandated protection of sensitive data.  Also, those organizations whom you do business will definitely not find satisfaction with your actions or lack there of; affecting your business reputation.


For the home user, it only seems backups are not important.  In fact most home users, if not all, who’ve experienced data loss, were quick to realize, after the fact, how very important it is to backup data.  We live in a mobile and digital world built on compiling, storing and amassing large amounts of data: email, homework, research papers, pictures, music, movies, financial data, and whatever your favorite pastimes, just to name a few.  By far, this isn’t just for one user.  It’s for everyone in your family who uses computers.  Don’t wait until it’s lost before you do something about it; usually by then it is too late and the data is more often than not unrecoverable.


There are two ways to approach backups: On-Site, and Offsite.  Within each of these approaches is the term redundant; multiple avenues of recovery for your most important data.


On-Site: On-Site begins with “data at rest”, the data stored on your hard drives.  Unfortunately, this is a single point of failure if ever something should go wrong.  But, it is also the most expedient way to access your data day to day; this why you keep it around.  The next backup option may depend on the amount and size of your data, removable media, such as:


- 3 Floppy: (if you still use them) Size limit: 1.44mb

- USB Thumb Drive: (Various sizes from 64MB to 64GB (64GB device is very expensive)

- Writable CD, 74-80 min: Size: 650MB to 700MB) or 90-99min, 800MB to 900MB

- Writable DVD (Standard): DVD5, Size: 4.7GB, SS-SL (Single Sided, Single Layer)

- Writable DVD: (NEW): DVD9, Size 8.54GB, SS, DL (single Sided, Dual Layer)

- Tape Drive: (many people still use them), various sizes and various manufacturers, useful

- External Drive: External to your system, same size or larger than your internal system drive(s)

- NAS (Network-Attached Storage): Best Choice, Raid5, full redundancy, automate, external


Copying data to these types of media may not require any other software, except what is already provided by your operating system.  It may come with its own software to best use the devices or you can choose to buy third party software to make your backup experience easier and less time consuming.  Each of these On-Site solutions comes with its own short falls: 


Floppy: Data may be too large, too many disk, time to backup and restore, wears down over time

USB: Data may be too large, easy too lose, data loss due to improper use, easy malware carrier

CD-Writer:  Data may be too large, some drives may not read disk made from other drives

DVD-Writer: Data may be too large, some drives may not read disk made from other drives

Tape Drive: Data may be too large, proprietary device, per model: time to backup and recover

External Drive:  Drive could fail just as your internal drive; data lost due to no other media used

NAS (Network-Attached Storage): Expensive and can be too technical for the average user


Note: Compressed data stored on removable media allows for additional space for more data. However, to restore, the compressed data must be copied to the hard drive and uncompressed first before use.  It could at more time to your recovery procedures and return to service.


Other information to keep in mind after backing up your data is to store it in a safe, secure location.  Store all your backups as well as your purchased software in lockable fireproof and water proof cabinet.  This will prevent casual theft and help prevent the physical loss of the media storing your data.  The media does not need to be stored on site it can also be stored in another location with the same safe, secure lockable cabinet requirements; which brings me to the second approach.


Off- Site:

First and foremost, you can store your backup media at another location; keeping in mind the requirement to store your media in a safe, secure cabinet; fire proof, water proof and lockable.

The off-site backup approach is also a “data in transit” strategy, providing the user a location to transmit their data to a remote back up location.  “A remote, online, or managed backup service is a service that provides users with an online system for backing up and storing computer files. Managed backup providers are companies that provide this type of service.”


Advantages of Remote Backup (Ref: Wikipedia.com)

Remote backup has advantages over traditional backup methods:

  • Remote backup does not require user intervention. The user does not have to change tapes, label CDs or perform other manual steps.

  • Remote backup maintains data offsite. Perhaps the most important aspect of backing up is that backups are stored in a different location from the original data. Traditional backup requires manually taking the backup media offsite.

  • Unlimited data retentions

  • Some remote backup services will work continuously, backing up files as they are changed.

  • Most remote backup services will maintain a list of versions of your files.

  • Most remote backup services will use a 128 - 448 bit encryption to send data over unsecured links (ie internet)

  • A few remote backup services can reduce backup by only transmitting changed binary data bits


Disadvantages of Remote Backup (Ref: Wikipedia.com)

Remote backup has some disadvantages:

  • Depending on the available network bandwidth, the restoration of data can be slow. Because data is stored offsite, the data must be recovered either via the Internet or via tape or disk shipped from the online backup service provider.

  • Some backup service providers have no guarantee that stored data will be kept private - for example, from employees. As such, most recommend that files be encrypted before storing or automating this process.

  • It is possible that a remote backup service provider could go out of business or be purchased, which may affect the accessibility of one's data or the cost to continue using the service.

  • If encryption password is lost, no more data recovery will be possible. However with managed services this should not be a problem.

  • Residential broadband services often have monthly limits that preclude large backups. They are also usually asymmetric; the user-to-network link regularly used to store backups is much slower than the network-to-user link used only when data is restored.



For data backups the user may employ any of the methods or a combination.  What works well for one user may not suit the conditions of another.  That’s why it’s best to choose the method that’s affordable, maintainable and fully meets the best practice to protect your data and provide the easiest data recovery and system restoration.  You need to ask yourself how important your data is and what are you not willing to lose.  The rest can be a success story.  Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning is not just a big business strategy; all users need to prudently protect their systems and data to prevent disruptions and the loss of data.


Note: This is just the backup of data.  It does not prevent compromise or the stealing of data.  The compromise or stealing of data often times leaves the data unchanged and remaining on the system.  Unless the user was aware of the compromise/stolen data, then possibly the only warning something was amiss would be the review of audit logs for system and data access.

Encryption will protect and prevent your data from prying eyes.


Here is a list of “Hints for Backups”. ((Ref: Computer Security Basics, Deborah Russell, G.T. Gangemi SR, O’Reilly & Associates, Inc)

Remember that your backups are the key to recovering your system in case of a disaster.

Back up all your files, and follow these rules:


  • Encrypt your backups if they contain sensitive data


  • Keep extra backups off0site in a locked, fireproof location.  You don’t want a fire, lighting, or some other disaster to wipe out your system and your backups at the same time.


  • Protect your backup tapes or disks.  Keep them locked up.  Don’t let them hang unattended for someone to steal or mistakenly use.


  • Verify your backups.  Check periodically to make sure they’ve been produced correctly and haven’t been damaged in any way.


  • Sanitize your backups before you discard them.  Be sure to delete all data by overwriting what’s there.  Don’t just reinitialize your tapes or disks.  (That typically rewrites only the header.)


  • If you’re throwing backups away, destroy the media first (by burning, crushing, or shredding.)

  • Consider buying an automatic backup program that runs full or incremental backups (without your intervention) every night.  There are also services available to encrypt and back up your data over a phone line (“or network”) to an “electronic vault.”


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