3 steps you should take to back up your data

Man backing up computer data on hard drive

Our digital devices contain vast treasure troves of data, from family photos and music collections to financial data, health records, and personal contacts. Storing all this information on a computer, tablet, or phone comes with the risk of loss if all that data is contained in one digital location.

Data can be wiped out in many ways. Maybe your computer gets wet, or a software update malfunctions. A fire or natural disaster can destroy your device. A virus could steal all your data and erase your machine. Or, a bad actor might target you with ransomware, which is when they hold the data on a device hostage unless you pay a fee.

To prevent losing precious data, documents, and files, back up your files regularly and often. You might want to back up your files daily or more frequently.

A data backup is a simple three-step process:

  1. Create copies of your data.
  2. Set up automatic cloud backup, select the hardware for storing your data, or both.
  3. Safely store your copied files on a backup device or service.

Create copies of your data

It’s likely that your computer already has backup software installed, which means you may have an option available. With most backup software programs, you can copy all files and programs on your computer or only the files you’ve changed since your last backup.

Where to back up your data

Nowadays, it’s common to back up your data to the cloud (i.e., online servers outside of your device). However, you should also back up to a physical device. These devices include external hard drives, USB flash drives, CDs, or DVDs. It’s recommended to back up your data both on the cloud and on a separate device.

CDs, DVDs, and flash drives

These are best for storing small quantities of photo, music, and video files. The number of files these devices can hold is usually limited.

External hard drive

You can easily back up your entire computer on an external hard drive that plugs into your computer (often through a USB port). If your computer serves as the family photo album and music library, an external hard drive can contain a large amount of data. This way, you can assure more adequate storage space for all of your files. Copying information will also be faster (and often automated) with these devices.

Online cloud backup services

Backing up files online has become common and usually costs a small recurring fee. Some security software includes this service with your subscription, so check that you don’t already have this service available. You simply back up your files to a secure server over the internet. These services have the added advantage of safely storing your files in a remote location, and the files can be accessed anywhere you have a connection to the internet. Online backup services can be valuable for people who travel a lot and may need to recover files or live in areas prone to natural disasters that might require evacuation. Again, it is best to use both cloud backup services and physical backups together.

Safely store backup devices

Keep your physical backup devices secure—it’s best to keep them in a separate location from your main device, especially if the data is sensitive. You could ask a trusted neighbor or place them in a fireproof safe, but even putting the backup device in another room adds security. Remember that you should back up your files regularly, so ensure your devices are easily retrievable.

This is part six of an 11-part series on cybersecurity and how you can protect yourself online in today’s digital age. For more educational tools and tips, visit our Learning center.

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