Backup, backup (tell me what you’re gonna do now)

How many tech news and blog pieces must have begun with “In the wake of the WannaCry ransomware attack…” over the past few months. Unfortunately, data backup regimes aren’t top of mind, but in the wake of these malware attacks — and stirrings of more in the past few days and months — backup has never been more important. 

Alas, the cyber security-industrial complex, like the real-world security industry, likes to promote a whole heap of often very expensive “solutions” to problems such as ransomware. But for most home users, there is a very simple and very cheap solution to the problem of ransomware:

Go to Officeworks or JB Hi-Fi, spend $69 on an external hard drive and BACKUP YOUR SYSTEM. 

If you are running Windows 10 (and make sure you have automatic updates turned on for godssakes), there are two inbuilt backup services, one for just backing up your personal non-system files, the other for creating an image of the entire computer. These are relatively straight forward and easy to use and require only a suitable external hard drive. Tech Advisor has an article on how this all works.

If running MacOS, there’s the ubiquitous Time Machine, which creates incremental backups of your data on an external drive. If you keep your backup drive connected (which, we’ll discover, isn’t by definition a backup, or a good idea), Time Machine will back up your data incrementally every hour. Simples. 

But when is a backup not a backup? It’s more than a single copy of your data. If, as in the example above, you keep your ‘backup’ hard drive connected to your computer, and your computer gets hit by ransomware, there’s a good chance the malware will encrypt your ‘backup’ drive too. If you keep your ‘backup’ drives disconnected from your computer, but in your house, and your house is robbed, or burns down, then that’s not a very useful backup.

The best practice for backing up data — whether personal and OS data, or files located on other drives, like photos and videos — is the 3-2-1 Rule. Eminently appropriate for us photographers — it was coined by photog Peter Krogh in his DAM Book — this rule stipulates THREE copies of your data on TWO different mediums, with at least ONE copy offsite.

In this age of cheap-as hard drives, there is almost no excuse not to follow this practice. Depending on how much data you have to backup, two mediums may be the most difficult practice to follow. When Krogh first conceived of the 3-2-1 Rule in 2005, he recommended storing data on hard drives and optical media disks. As photo file sizes have increased, and optical media declined in use, this has become an impractical option. In my particular set up, I mitigate this to a certain extent by using only one medium (hard drive), but using drives of different brands in case of a problem with a particular batch. I also store some (though not all) images in the cloud. An external SSD, for instance, would also satisfy the second medium criteria.

Data backup need not be a chore, and with the cost of storage cheaper than ever, there really is no excuse not to have an effective backup regime. Give the 3-2-1 Rule a go and you might find yourself sleeping easier knowing your precious data is about as safe as it can be. Until, of course, Petya — the GoldenEye satellite, not the ransomware — fires its electromagnetic pulse and wipes out everything with an electronic circuit. The only thing that will have you screaming “I AM INVINCIBLE” then are photographic prints stored deep underground in a bunker…but that’s another story for another time…

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