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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 smartphone comes with the risk of it being lost 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 goes bad. A device can be lost in a fire or natural disaster. A virus could steal all your data or destroy your machine. 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 even back up your files daily, or even more frequently.
A data backup is a simple 3-step process:
- Create copies of your data
- Set up automatic cloud backup, select the hardware for storing your data or both
- Safely store your copied files on a backup device or service
Create Copies of Your Data
Many computers come with backup software installed, so you probably already have an option on your device. Most backup software programs allow for copying every file and program on your computer. If you prefer, you can also usually opt to copy just the files you’ve changed since your last backup.
Here are links to backup utilities in popular operating systems:
Where to Backup Your Data
Nowadays, it is common to back up your data to the cloud (i.e., online servers outside of your device), but you should also back up to a physical device. These devices include external hard drives, USB flash drives, CDs or DVDs. Ideally, you should be backing 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 huge 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 very common and usually costs a small recurring fee. Some security software includes this service with your subscription, so be sure to 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. This 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 is best to keep them in a separate location from your main device, especially if the data is particularly sensitive. You could ask a trusted neighbor or place them in a safe, but even putting the backup device in another room adds security. Remember that you should backup your files on a regular basis, though, so you should be able to easily retrieve your devices.
You can purchase backup software programs if you want more features or your system did not include one.
Ideally, you should back up your files at least once a week.