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Back Up Your Data Before It’s Too Late

29 Feb 2016 by Teresa Meek

It took some time, but you’ve finally got your digital life setup just how you want it. Your files on your computer are organized and easy to find, and you’ve put together music playlists to suit every mood. On your phone, you’ve got family photos to welcome you, and passwords are embedded on all your favorite sites and games. Life’s a breeze — until your computer dies or your phone gets stolen.

Sure, you can get a new computer and remote-wipe your phone. But unless you back up your data, all of your files, photos and playlists will be gone forever and your passwords will be out of reach.

You need to back up your data now, before it happens to you.

Because eventually, it will happen. As Wall Street Journal columnist Geoffrey Fowler puts it, “There are two types of hard drives: those about to fail and those that will fail eventually.”

Yet 30% of people do not have an efficient data backup system in place. Maybe they don’t realize that 113 phones are lost or stolen every minute and one in 10 computers are infected with viruses each month, according to statistics from World Backup Day.

That’s why the folks who created World Backup Day set the date for March 31 — to catch you before you feel like a fool on April Fool’s Day for not doing something like backing up your data.

We understand why you haven’t. Backing up files used to be a task with more steps than the Eiffel Tower and no city view as a payoff. But it’s become easier. You’ve got four basic choices for going about this, so pick one and get started.

Back-up to an external hard drive

An external hard drive is a small, portable drive that plugs into your computer and allows you to drag and drop or copy files to it. You can load up to six terabytes onto some models, or just transfer the stuff you feel you can’t live without. There are external hard drives for PCs and Macs, notebooks and laptops. Some are faster and pricier than others.

Pros — You have a hard drive backup of all your important information someplace other than your computer. Once you load it, the information is there to stay. Some models have waterproof and fireproof cases.

Cons — You need to remember to back up your computer periodically to keep your information current. Though most hard drives last for years without failure, you could be the unlucky one who gets a lemon.

Back-up to a thumb (aka flash) drive

Thumb drives (aka USB drives) are solid-state drives that use flash memory. The ultimate in portability, they’re small enough to fit on a keychain.

Pros — In addition to being highly portable, flash drives are cheap. Some include encryption software to make your data impossible for someone else to view if you lose the drive. USBs work on almost any computer, making it easy for you to update your files from anywhere.

Cons — Their small size also makes them easy to lose. They typically hold just 128 megabytes to a gigabyte, although newer models offer higher storage capacities. Keep in mind that a USB backup is slower than external hard drives, and they can break down a lot sooner, too.

Back-up to the cloud

With a cloud backup, you upload files to a third-party service over the Internet. Many companies provide free storage and increase your space for a fee. The cloud is a natural for backing up your phone. Both Apple and Android offer free solutions, as does Google.

Pros — Backing up is easy and, with some services, you can make it automatic. You can access your files anywhere, from any device, at any time. You don’t have to worry about losing or overloading a device.

Cons — The provider can get hacked, exposing your information to predators. A 2015 Netskope report found that as many as 15% of business owners have had their data compromised in the cloud. If the provider goes out of business, you may lose your data.

Back up everything

If you want to back up your entire hard drive, not just selected files, you can do that, too, using a service like CrashPlan or Carbonite. Of course, these services take longer to do their job, and they also cost more. But to some, they’re worth it.

It’s also possible to create an image of the entire contents of your hard drive, though it’s a rather complicated process.

Pros — You never have to worry about whether to back up information or kick yourself later if you didn’t. If you get a new computer, you’re all set to go — it’s like buying a fully furnished house.

Cons — Slow, more expensive and/or complicated than other solutions.

Decisions, decisions

So which system should you choose?

The best course is to cover your bases and follow the 3-2-1 rule: Keep three copies of your important information on two different media, with at least one of them stored off-site.

And remember, when you update your data you should also update your backups, whatever method you’ve chosen.