Throughout our blog series on ransomware, we’ve talked about how you can avoid having to ransom your computer or data if you do regular backups of your computers. You should be doing this anyway, because backups will save everything from your financial records to your precious family memories if your hard drive fails or your computer is lost, stolen, or damaged.
A backup is basically a copy of whatever’s on your hard drive. If your data is lost, you or your go-to tech support person can restore it from the backup copy. If you’re backing up your mobile device(s) to your computer, backups also protect your mobile data.
There are several ways to do backups.
- The most basic way is to buy an external hard drive and manually copy the contents of your hard disk onto it. Depending on how much data storage you need, the disk will cost $100–$300 (around the cost of one ransom if your computer gets hacked). Don’t be surprised: even with a Thunderbolt (high speed) connection, it can take several hours to copy everything onto the external disk. The frequency of backups depends on how much data you’re willing to lose. If you only backup monthly, you could lose a whole month’s worth of data. The other downside of manual backups is that you have to remember to do the backups. Good intentions will not save your data once it’s gone.
- The most convenient and reliable way to protect your data is to do automatic backups. In addition to an external hard disk, you’ll need backup software. Your computer operating system may have built-in backup software—Time Machine comes with Mac OS 10.5 or later, and there are built-in backup options on Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8—or you can buy third-party software. Setup takes a little technical know-how, so you can tackle it yourself or tap your tech support person.
- The third way is to use an online backup service. These vary in price, amount of data they will store, and how long they will save the data. PC Magazine has a good comparison chart.
Whichever way you decide to go, there are two other things to keep in mind. First, test that you can restore data from your backups. There’s nothing worse than losing your data and then finding out there was a problem with the backups. Second, make sure the external disk is disconnected from your computer after the backups so that a ransomware attack can’t encrypt your backup data as well as your internal hard drive. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep backup disks in a fireproof safe or other secure place in case of a fire or natural disaster. If the worst happens, your family’s recovery will be smoother and less stressful if your financial records and other important data are safe.