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  • John Bell

Tech Sense: Back Up Your Data

Back Up Your Data

As I am writing this month's article, the headlines are about the WannaCry "ransomware" attack that occurred over the past few days. Ransomware is an attack in which a computer is infected with a program that encrypts data files stored on the computer. A screen is displayed explaining that the files are encrypted and to recover them a ransom will have to be paid in Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a nontraceable digital currency. If the ransom is paid and the perpetrator follows through, you will be given a key and instructions to decrypt and recover the data. The data often includes your precious photos, music, documents, and programs that are stored on your computer. Typically, this data will all be lost unless you pay the ransom or have a recent backup of your data.


A backup is a copy of the data on your computer that you do not want to lose. Backups can be made to other computers, to network drives, to USB thumb drives, or to external drives. In the case of malware like WannaCry, you will find it best to have an external backup because the malware will look for devices connected to your network and try to attack those devices as well. In this case, an external backup is best.

Data Backup

A data backup only backs up important data and not the operating system or install programs. Most Windows users only need to back up the documents, photos, video, and music folders. Often, it is sufficient to back up only the document folder. This type of backup is normally fast and inexpensive. The documents directory will often fit on a single thumb drive. You can simply copy the files from the hard disk to the thumb drive to create a backup. You can also use a free tool from Microsoft called SyncToy. SyncToy is designed to synchronize folders, and it will only copy the files that have changed since the last sync. If you have a lot of files to back up, SyncToy can save a lot of time. SyncToy can be found here:

Also, if you want to save space for backing up your document files, compression programs like 7-Zip and WinZip can reduce the file sizes allowing more backup files to fit into a smaller space. This doesn't work for music or photos because their file formats are already compressed.

If you want to simply do a data backup, you will want to make sure you have the ability to reinstall Windows and any other programs that you own. To reinstall Windows, you will need a Windows Recovery Drive. You can create one by searching Windows for Create Recovery Drive and following the prompts. You will need an 8-gigabyte or larger thumb drive.

For your other applications, you may need the original disks if you installed the program from disk and the license numbers to reinstall the software.

Image Backup

It is possible to back up your entire computer, but this requires a lot of time and storage. An image backup can be used to restore your computer to exactly the way it was when you last backed it up. An image backup will require an external device that is about the same size as the computer's hard drive. Most image backup software copies the hard drive sector by sector and then marks the empty sectors and compresses the rest of the data to save space. Some of these programs have the ability to

do partial backups of changes made since the last full backup to reduce the amount of time to back up on a regular basis.

Backup Software

Windows comes with a built-in backup program that can do both partial and full backups and can even automate the process. Remember to remove the backup device once a backup has been completed so it is not compromised if your computer is attacked. If you have Comcast as your Internet provider, then you can install a free copy of the Norton Security Suite. Norton also includes an automated backup program.

Cloud Backup

A newer, popular means of backup is to back up to the Cloud. If you have Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive files stored in these locations on your computer, they are copied or synchronized to the Internet. This is how they can be shared between computers. These solutions are not designed for complete backups but are great to store photos, music, and documents. There may be a cost to store more data than the free accounts allow. Of course, if you have cloud storage, you can use the Cloud instead of a thumb drive to back up your data.

Services like Carbonite and IDrive support full-image backups over the Internet. These services typically cost $5 to $10 per month per computer. If you have a slow outgoing Internet connection, the initial backup may take a long time depending on the amount of data that needs to be stored. For example, if you are doing an image backup of a 1 terabyte drive that is half full over a Comcast connection (typically 12 megabits per second) at 50% compression, the backup can take 45 hours or more to complete. Once the initial backup has been completed, only the changes need to be sent to the Cloud. Many people choose to back up only their important data (data backup) to the Cloud because of the bandwidth limitations.

Final Remarks

This is by no means a complete discussion of backups. First, this discussion is written for personal backup and does not discuss the rigor required for businesses. I didn't discuss the concepts of having multiple backups or offsite copies or using both local and cloud backups for redundancy. But in my experience, most people neglect to have even a single backup, so a good start is better than nothing. A good, recent backup can save you from having to pay a ransom to keep your data.

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