The availability of lots of cloud storage services has greatly expanded our options for keeping our data both safe and accessible.
While it’s expanded our ability to establish cloud backup options, it’s also greatly expanded our ability to get it wrong. It’s now very easy to think you are backed up when you are not, or to inadvertently expose yourself to additional risks.
Let’s review some rules about backing up, and about cloud backup specifically.
1. Back up your cloud data
This is by far the single most important rule I can offer you. If you remember nothing else remember this:
If there is only one copy, it’s not backed up.
I don’t care where you keep your data – on your computer, in the cloud or somewhere else – if you have only one copy then, by definition, your data is not backed up.
So when you say, “Most of my data files are now on OneDrive; do those need to be backed up?” the answer is a resounding YES. Just because the files are stored in the cloud doesn’t mean that you won’t lose them; you may just lose them for different reasons.
Yes, the service provider is most likely backing up its servers, but that does you no good whatsoever if you accidentally delete a file – or worse, your online account gets hacked and the hacker deletes everything.
You must back up the data you keep in any online service, or you are at risk of losing all of it in an instant, forever.
2. Be careful what files you place in the cloud, and how
The answer to “Can I use OneDrive space as my ‘external hard drive’ for backups of my other files?” is a qualified “yes”.
Cloud services are, in fact, great places to back up many files on your computer. In one operation, you get both backups (an additional copy of your data) and off-site backups (copies stored somewhere other than where your computer is located). That’s actually a very good use of cloud storage as cloud backup.
However, there’s a catch.
As several celebrities discovered not that long ago, if your online account is compromised, it’s possible that your files might become accessible to hackers or others. As I’ll discuss in a moment, that means the security of your online account is critical. It also means you may want to think twice about what files you place in the cloud.
Or, you might want to consider how you place them there. One alternative that works well is to make sure that the files you place in the cloud are encrypted before they’re put there. You can do that yourself, manually, or consider using a tool like BoxCryptor to encrypt your cloud backup automatically.
3. Keep backing up locally
Unless you have an amazingly fast internet connection, the cloud is not a viable solution for image backups of your computer.
And yet, having complete image backups of your computer is key to being able to recover quickly from a variety of disasters. You need to keep doing them.
Why aren’t cloud backups ready for image backups? It’s simply an issue of size and time. Image backups are large – multiple, if not hundreds, of gigabytes. Even on a fast internet connection, that could mean days or weeks to upload the backup to online storage. Often image backups are created and updated faster than they can be uploaded to a cloud service.
So while cloud backup using cloud storage can be a very convenient and helpful addition to an overall backup strategy, it’s in no way a replacement for local backups, nor is it an appropriate place to put your image backups.
4. Secure that account
The security of any online account is important, but for the account you use for cloud backup it becomes even more important.
It’s too easy not to take your online account security seriously.
For any account into which you place important information – not only cloud backup, but email accounts, photo sharing accounts, social media and others as well – it’s critical that you use as many of the techniques at your disposal to keep it as secure as you can manage. That includes:
- using strong passwords
- never sharing passwords with anyone
- never logging into that account on a computer you don’t completely trust
- knowing when and how to use public internet connections and open Wi-Fi safely
- using common sense to avoid malware, phishing attempts and more
You get the idea. It’s basic internet security that we should all be doing anyway, but it’s easy to overlook and easy to get wrong. And when it comes to those important accounts, like an account you use for cloud backup, then additional measures – like perhaps two-factor authentication – might also be called for.