Stories to convince you to do what you already know you need to do.
That’s a quote from an email I received from someone who, honestly, I expected better of. They’re a prominent figure in my industry, someone who has a large team of people supporting them.
To have a simple computer crash cause “huge” data loss… well, this doesn’t need to happen. Ever. Not to him, and not to you or me.
Sadly, he’s not the only one running the risk.
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Avoid losing data
Many people, experts included, risk losing important data because of computer failures. I hear heartbreaking stories of data loss often. It’s simple to avoid: back up regularly. If all your data is in only one place, it’s not backed up.
Imagine your computer… gone
I was traveling once when a colleague mentioned that should their laptop fail or be lost, it would be a serious problem. Apparently, significant work would be lost.
Again, significant data loss doesn’t need to happen. Ever.
Look at your computer. Right now. The one you use most, perhaps the one you’re traveling with, the one with all your work.
Now, imagine it gone. Without warning, without recovery, just… gone.
If that would result in serious data loss for you, that’s a problem. A problem that doesn’t need to happen. Ever.
And yet it does, over and over again.
I hear the stories.
Tales of data loss
In the early years of Ask Leo!, I received a plea from an overseas graduate student working on their master’s thesis. Something had happened to their online email account, and they could no longer access it. They’d been hacked, and all the recovery methods were failing. And, of course, this was a free account (Hotmail, if memory serves), so there was no hope of help.
Calling it a “problem” doesn’t do the situation justice. It was a disaster. That account held their only copy of their thesis.1 Without access, it was gone.
They had to start over from scratch.
A good friend of mine contacted me a few years ago and told me that all of a sudden, pictures wouldn’t open properly on his computer. After a lengthy investigation, we determined that the machine had been infected with one of the early instances of ransomware. The malware hadn’t completely loaded, so he hadn’t yet been presented with the ransom demand. The process had been interrupted, presumably by security software finally detecting and neutralizing it as it encrypted his files.
Unfortunately, it was too late for the majority of his pictures. Pictures kept only on that PC. Pictures that remained encrypted without hope of recovery.2
Pictures of his late granddaughter.
You might say these are extreme examples, and I won’t disagree.
But they’re common. Too common.
I hear tales like these often from desperate people grasping at straws to recover something critically important, sentimental, or ultimately irreplaceable.
It doesn’t have to be extreme to be painful. It might not be your life’s work; losing the photos on your digital camera or your smartphone is one example of data loss that might not be tragic but can certainly hurt. And it does happen. Small, portable devices get lost. Memory cards go bad. Well-meaning friends or technicians accidentally delete things.
Stuff happens. You know it does.
I harp for a reason
Significant data loss doesn’t need to happen, and yet it does.
It happens more often and more easily than you might think.
My frustration is that it’s so easy to prevent with backups. Yet people are scared away by details they don’t understand, poorly written and poorly documented tools that are supposed to help, and systems that have become so complex it’s sometimes difficult to understand exactly what’s where.
I get all that. I truly do. But the fact remains it can be easy, and it’s important. Even if it isn’t easy, it’s still important. In fact, if something is important enough for you to work on, if you’re doing “a huge amount of research and work”, then it’s well worth investing the time to protect yourself even at the most basic level.
The most basic level?
Think of what’s stored on your computer. Now envision that computer suddenly gone. Would all the things you’re thinking of be lost forever?
Make a copy. Put that copy somewhere else.
That’s it. That’s all. That’s a backup at its most basic. Everything else is refinement. Everything else is about what gets copied, where it gets copied to, and automating the process of making those copies.
But ultimately, backups are all — and only — about making copies.
If your data is in only one place, it’s not backed up.
Start making copies.
Learn how to use the tools if you have to, but start. Today.
Read How to Back Up Windows 10 (& 11) even if you’re not running Windows 10 or 11. Many of the specific steps will work on any Windows version, and the concepts are universal.
Read How Do I Back Up My Computer? for a nice high-level overview of the various options and approaches to backing up. (In fact, have a look at all of the Best Articles: a Collection of articles on backing up and security in general.)
But above all, no matter what you read or how you do it, start backing up now.
If a sudden and unexpected loss of your computer and data (or phone, or account, or…) would be anything greater than an annoyance, you’re not sufficiently backed up.
I’ll continue to preach about backing up. To me, it’s still the one thing that could save more grief for more people than anything else I talk about.
If you feel the same way — if you feel that this article and the ideas behind it have merit — share it. Share it on Facebook. Share it on whatever other social media platform you use. Send the link to this
rant post up there in your address bar to the people you know aren’t backing up as they should. (And I’m betting you know quite a few.)
Spread the word.
And then be sure to subscribe to Confident Computing! It’s my weekly newsletter that gives less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.
Footnotes & References
1: Yes, that feels odd, particularly since this was before OneDrive, but nonetheless, it was the situation.
2: I actually keep an image of that hard drive with the small hope that perhaps someday the master keys for that particular ransomware variant — CryptoWall 2.0 — will be found. So far, no luck.