Another Backup Strategy

[In a previous article, Drake Christensen described his backup strategy using a network attached storage (NAS) and software to immediately backup changed documents. Your intrepid editor has a different strategy, since he doesn’t need immediate backups with version control.]

pc-bruciato-fireIt is a Good Thing to have a way to back up your important files. And since it is also Emergency Preparedness Month, having a good backup strategy is a good subject to visit.

There are tons of ways to backup your data, and many reasons to actually Do It. You’ve probably heard about all the reasons ‘why’. My main focus on my backup strategy is three-fold:

  • keep backup copies in several physical locations; not just at home
  • make the backup process easy and mostly automatic
  • allow backups of multiple devices (there are four computer systems in our house) while reducing costs

Backing My Laptops

The first process is to copy important documents/files (pictures, project code, document, etc) to a central location in my home. That is a desktop computer sitting upstairs, connected to my LAN. It’s an older system, not used as much anymore, but there is a big hard drive on the system.

I use Microsoft’s SyncToy, a free program that synchronizes files between two locations. In my case, I use it to one-way sync between laptop (source) and desktop (target). SyncToy has the advantage of only copying or updating files that have changed or been deleted. Only those files that meet those criteria are copied from the laptop to the desktop. With thousands of files on my laptop, that saves a bunch of time.

Since SyncToy is free (thanks, Microsoft!), I have it installed and configured on all three of our laptops. Right now, it is a manual process to do the ‘sync’, but there are ways to set up a ‘batch job’ and schedule the SyncToy task on a regular basis. My practice is to do a sync every couple of days. This is OK, since most of my work is with web sites, and the web site code files are also available on the external web sites in case of disaster.

ScreenShot394SyncToy works fairly fast; once you set it up, just run the sync task and let it do it’s thing. Here’s the results screen of the last time I ran SyncToy. You can see that a bunch of files didn’t need to be copied, because they hadn’t changed. That saves a bunch of time on the backup.

Now, I could back up to an external hard disk, either manually or with SyncToy. But the desktop is available on my LAN, and backing up via wireless is Fast Enough for my purposes.

Backing Up the Desktop

At this point, all my important files are in two places: my laptop(s), and the desktop. But the files are in the same physical location. Any problems with that physical location (theft, fire, earthquake, zombies; take your pick) would result in loss of files – especially all the family pictures, many of them irreplaceable.

So the second part of my backup strategy is to copy important files to the ‘cloud’. For that, I have chosen the Carbonite backup service (http://goo.gl/45wv ). For a flat fee, all my important files are automatically copied to their encrypted servers. There are similar services available from other vendors.

The best part is that ‘automatic’ part. Any file that changes on the desktop is automatically backed up to the Carbonite servers. It happens in the background, so when I use that computer, the backup process doesn’t interfere with my use of the computer.

Carbonite stores multiple copies of my files, so there are some ‘history’ versions of files that are available. You can also access any of your backed up files on other devices or computers – phones, tablets, whatever. This is a great advantage if you travel a lot, since you can access that important file you left on your home system while on the road.

There is another advantage to using a ‘cloud backup’ service like Carbonite. That relates to ‘ransomware’.

I P0wn All Your Filez

Any backup strategy needs to account for damaged files. Files can be damaged by hardware problems, physical damage (fire, etc.) or theft. And then there is ‘logical’ damage – damage done by malware.

There is malware that encrypts your files, requiring a payment to recover your data. This ‘ransomware’ can be a big moneymaker – reports are that up to US$18 million has been paid to recover encrypted files. While there are things you can do to block ransomware – or any malware – think ‘safe computing’ practices – your backup strategy can also help prevent file loss from ransomware.

Ransomware can damage files from any infected computer on your network – even your little home network. If a file is available on the network from an ransomware-infected computer, then that file can be encrypted, even if it is on another computer.

So your backup strategy needs to take possibility into account.

There are a couple of ways that you can enhance your backup strategy to protect from ransomware:

  • Copy files to an external drive (or even DVDs), then physically disconnect that external drive from the network.
  • Use a ‘cloud backup’ service.

As you may have guessed, my backup strategy to prevent possible ransomware problems is using a cloud backup service from Carbonite.

gTWVIWhat about copying files to a Linux-based Network Attached Storage (NAS) system? It is likely that configuration includes access to the NAS by Windows-based systems. So there is no protection there. Of course, you could run all-Linux systems, but that is less likely for most people.

So the Carbonite-based cloud service is my solution. They keep multiple backup copies of my backups, so even if the ransomware gets to my desktop system, and Carbonite backs up those encrypted files, I can work with Carbonite to get a prior, non-encrypted versions of my files. I might lose a few recent files, but the majority of my important files would be available to get back – after I rid my systems of the ransomware.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it. My own personal backup strategy. It works pretty well for me. I haven’t had to recover files – mainly because I practice ‘safe computing’. And have been lucky enough to not have any disasters.

But I am prepared. My important pictures, documents, web site files, etc., are available-  Just In Case.

What is your backup strategy? What do you do different? Or do you just trust in your ‘karma’ to keep away the possibility of file loss? Let us know in your comments – or write up your own backup strategy for an article here on Chaos Manor Reviews.