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Is an Online Backup Service a Good Idea?

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I keep hearing about online backup services that will back up your data to “the cloud”. Assuming it’s secure, why shouldn’t I do that and skip the hassle of doing backups to an external hard drive or whatever?

I’ve written some about free online backup services before, but I want to take this opportunity to look at the entire concept of online backups, whether they’re free or paid.

Online backup services can be a useful component of a broader backup strategy, but there are a number of factors to consider before deciding if online backup is the right thing to do, including security, completeness, speed, and cost.

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“The cloud”

“Moving to the cloud” is a popular buzz phrase these days, and online backup is one of the poster children for the concept. In a nutshell, the idea is that with ubiquitous connectivity, why not store important data on servers on the internet, in “the cloud”? (We used to simply call it the internet.)

By using third-party internet services and servers, you can keep all your email online (nothing new here; Hotmail and others have been around for years), your documents online (Google Docs and Microsoft OneDrive are just two examples), and more. The advantage is that all you usually need is a computer and a browser, and not only can you access your documents from just about anywhere, but you can be less concerned about system and software crashes on your machine.

So if “the cloud” is such a good place for your data (a debatable subject for another day), is it also a good place for the backups of your data?

Why not online backups?

It’s definitely an option, if used properly, but there are definitely concerns to consider.

An online backup isn’t practical for everything

It’s just not practical to back up everything online.

For most people, it would take days, if not weeks, to upload a complete copy of everything on their machine, simply because of the limited upload speed of their internet connection. This means that you likely won’t be backing up your operating system, your settings, or anything but your data.

In fact, that’s what most online backup services do by default: back up your data, not your system. And even then, you need to be careful to ensure that they’re backing up everything you think they are. For example, if you keep data outside of My Documents, you may have to take extra steps to tell the service to back that up as well.

The implication is simple: if you have a major system failure and lose everything, your online backup won’t help restore your machine. It’ll only restore your data after you’ve rebuilt your machine and reinstalled the operating system and applications.

That might be a valid choice, but it’s a choice you need to be aware of.

Files in the cloudAn online backup requires being online

This might sound obvious, but in many cases, it’s not: you must be online for online backup to happen at all.

Here’s a troubling scenario: you’ve taken a number of pictures with your camera, and loaded them onto your computer, into some folder that your online backup service backs up. Say you’ve taken 100 megabytes of photos (not difficult with today’s high resolution cameras). At a 256kb upload speed (yours may be slower or faster), it will take a minimum of an hour to upload and backup those photos, and that’s if you’re doing nothing else with your internet connection.

If you turn your computer off  at the end of the day, and those photos have not yet completed uploading, they aren’t backed up. They may automatically resume uploading when the machine it next turned on, but until then, if anything happens to that machine or hard disk, you risk losing them.

This is a particularly common scenario when traveling, where connectivity is limited and slow. It’s easy, particularly with photos, to accumulate data faster than you can back it up.

An online backup is … online

Your backup is in the cloud. I know, that’s kinda the point, right? Accessible from anywhere? From any computer?

The risk is the same risk you run when using any online service: if someone steals your account information, they have access to whatever you’ve stored in the cloud. If you’ve been backing things up online, and somehow your backup account is compromised, the attacker could have access to everything.

The good news here is that this is something within your control, and goes back to the basics of online account management and safety: use good, strong passwords, don’t write them down, don’t use the same password for multiple purposes, don’t share with people you don’t absolutely trust, stay safe in open WiFi hotspots, avoid malware, and so on.

The steps to keeping your online information safe are relatively easy, but the cost of failure can be fairly high.

An online backup is on someone else’s computer

Many people express concern about the security of their data apart from the security of their account. Those concerns typically fall into two categories:

  • Your data being exposed should the online backup service be hacked.
  • Your data being exposed should the online backup service receive a warrant or other demand from a law enforcement agency or other government entity.

Depending on where you live, where the online backup service is located, and the sensitivity of your data, those can both be very valid concerns.

As long as you stick with reputable online backup services, the technology typically encrypts your backups in such a way that no one but you can actually see it. In fact, one measure of security is that the best services are not able to recover your data if you forget your password. So don’t do that, OK?

Is an online backup a good idea?

In my opinion, yes, but only as part of a larger back-up strategy.

Start with a periodic full image backup of your computer. This way, you know everything is backed up. Should your hard drive ever die completely, you won’t be faced with reinstalling the operating system and all your applications from scratch; just restore the backup.

Then, consider adding an online backup of your data. Depending on your approach, this could result in nearly real-time continuous backup of your data, or it could be an alternative to running your local back-up program every day. When something goes wrong, from an accidentally deleted file to a completely destroyed computer (or even home), you know that your data, at least, is safe.

I would be extremely hesitant to use only an online backup service, but as a component of a larger picture, it can definitely make sense.

And, to quote one of my earlier articles, “the best backup strategy is whatever you’ll actually use” – so if online is the one that you’ll actually use – use it.

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59 comments on “Is an Online Backup Service a Good Idea?”

    • Love it…and I’ve added Google Drive, so I’ve got plenty of free storage.
      Where possible, I move program databases (personal organizers, etc.) into the backup folder, so changes are updated continuously.

  1. I don’t really use Dropbox for online backup as much as I use it for convenient online storage. The idea is that I can avoid carrying my USB stick around all the time, and just save those web order confirmations (using PDFCreator) to my Dropbox folder from work, and when I get home, I have instant access to the file. Dropbox is like my cloud-based universal USB thumb drive, it works on Macs, Windows, and Linux. I save files to my Dropbox all the time.

    Also, I use TrueCrypt to create an encrypted volume to hold my most sensitive information, then I store that file on Dropbox. When I mount that file to a drive letter in TrueCrypt, I mount it from the Dropbox location.

    I also will soon be using KeePass and will store those files in my Dropbox as well.

    I’m also thinking about trying to move my Firefox profile to my Dropbox folder. Then, for all machines I access that have Dropbox and Firefox installed, I should instantly have all my extensions and bookmarks.

    The magazine MaximumPC had a recent article suggesting creative and useful combinations of Dropbox and other tools.

  2. After an unfortunate experience resulting in lost of all my data, at the suggestion of my attorney son, I began using the same service that he uses for his client data. That is: backup.com. To date, I have not had to test the results but I follow his recommendation as he has had positive results. Thank you for your services to all of us. Deacon Ray

  3. Backing up to any remote (online) location seems extremely unwise from a security standpoint. Leo, you mention turning a computer off, I always was led to believe that this was unwise?

    Unwise to turn a computer off? Not at all. It really depends on how you use your computer in general. I happen to use my computers a lot and leave them on 24×7, but for someone who just uses it for an hour or two a day it’s difficult to justify leaving it on all day long.

    Leo
    29-Jul-2009

  4. I use Crashplan with good success. You can use it for free if you don’t subscribe to their online storage facility.
    You can backup to another remote location (e.g. family or friends computer) and this data is encrypted. Also nice is the fact that you can ‘seed’ your backup by taking it all to the remote location (e.g. on a USB drive), copy it to the designated backup folder then go back home and continue backing up changed and added files only.
    Saves a lot of time and bandwidth on that initial backup.

    • I love the concept of peer-to-peer backup, but simply do not feel comfortable with the idea of having my data on somebody else’s computer – or, conversely, their data on mine. Some practical considerations: 1) What are the possible legal implications if your “backup buddy” has illegal material that ends up being backed up your computer? 2) To restore data, both you and your buddy’s computers need to be working and and connected to the internet (which may not be the case after a Sandy or Katrina-like event); 3) If your buddy’s computer dies, your backup is lost. 3) What happens if CrashPlan decide to pull the plug on the feature? Would you still be able to restore your data?

  5. I use Mozy and works perfectly.
    They have developed a web-based application called DECHO (still in Beta) that provides you with a web site where you can access all your data in a better organized way (photos, music, etc), even from your cell phone. I’m still testing it and so far so good.

  6. I’ve only recently started backing up my files, but I’ve been using Mozy and Acronis in tandem for about a month and loved both so far.

    I just wanted to chime in and suggest using both a physical and online backup service. Backing up to physical media (an external hard drive, DVDs, etc.) does you no good if you are the victim of a housefire, flood, or theft…unless you diligently put your backups in a fireproof safe every night.

    I use Mozy to backup my absolutely critical data, but the non-essential stuff (like mp3s) I only back up to an external hard drive. I figure if I have a housefire, then losing my mp3 collection will be the least of my worries. 🙂

    • You said: “Backing up to physical media (an external hard drive, DVDs, etc.) does you no good if you are the victim of a housefire, flood, or theft.” I use a fire/water/theft-proof hard drive (at least, I did until I recently upgraded to a fire/water/theft-proof NAS from the same company). The hard drive cost $350 plus an extra $50 for a 5-year warranty and their Data Recovery Service (if your hard drive breaks, they’ll replace it as well as recovering the data from your old drive and putting in on the new one). While that may seem like a lot, I did the math and, if you spread the cost out, it’s actually pretty cheap. Between my and my wife’s computers, we have about 500GBs of data. To back that up with CrashPlan’s Family Plan would have cost $12.50/month, or $750 over 5 years. To back it up with Mozy would have cost about $30/month, or about $1,800 over 5 years (yikes!). In other words, the drive should save me quite a bit of money compared to the alternatives (touch wood!). And that, of course, assumes that cloud companies don’t increase their pricing – which I suspect is something that may happen in the not too distant future. (the current downward trend cannot continue indefinitely).

      All that said, I also put our most critical stuff – the stuff we absolutely couldn’t stand to lose – in the cloud as a precautionary measure (you can never be too safe). But, as that only amounts to a couple of GBs, I can do it using the 15GB of free space you get from Microsoft’s OneDrive.

    • I use a fireproof/waterproof NAS. for local backup – likely from the same manufacturer as your hard drive (really great products and a really great company to deal with). And, like you, I also back up my most important data online as an additional tier of protection. I wouldn’t, however, feel comfortable using Carbonite. The company has been losing money for years which makes me wonder how long they’ll be around.

  7. The internet “Cloud” has been around a long time. Internal corporate network “Clouds” also. Is just the Software developers have found a way to capitalize on this aspect, but in doing so have created a redundancy monster! You have a backup strategy, then you use online backup, who also uses online backup, who also uses online backup, etc., etc. Soon we will end up hosting someone’s online backup that may be our own data. Makes my head spin.

    • This is actually a fascinating subject. We’re approaching at which the volume of data we produce will outpace the amount of storage capacity we can create (interesting read: http://www.information-age.com/technology/data-centre-and-it-infrastructure/123458552/closing-data-capacity-gap). And, of course, much of the data that we’re producing is simply copies – or copies of copies. An e-book may only be about 1MB in size but, if a million people download it, it’s actually consuming >1TB of capacity on a million Kindles. It’s the same when it comes to photos. You take a photo you’re particularly proud of and decide to email it to some friends and share it on Facebook and Instagram. The file then exists on your computer, it’s backed up to your external hard drive and/or online service, it’s on your ISP’s mail server (and in their backups), it’s on each of the recipient’s mail servers (and in their backups, it’s on the recipient’s computers and also backed up to their external hard drives and/or online backup services, it’s on Facebook’s servers, it’s on Instagram’s servers and it’s one the computers and backups systems of anybody else who liked the photo enough to download a copy of it from Facebook or Instagram. It does indeed make your head spin!

  8. To me i think backing up online is good.Am saying so because am using SafeCopy online backup.I have never experience anything negative with their services.You can try it out if you really want an ideal site for backing up your files.
    (http://www.safecopybackup.com

    • My concern with SafeCopy – and other smaller, less well-known companies – is stability. Will they still be around tomorrow? Next week? Next year? Cloud companies have gone belly-up in the past, and it’s inevitable that others will meet a similar fate. And, if your cloud storage company does close its doors, will they give you enough time to download your data? Maybe, maybe not.

      With the major players like Google and Microsoft, this really isn’t a concern, but it’s definitely something people should think about when considering using the services of a smaller company.

      The way I look at it: I wouldn’t put my data with a company I knew absolutely nothing about any more than I’d put my money with a bank I knew absolutely nothing about.

      • Good point. I checked out their website, and they don’t have a WOT (Web of Trust) rating. This doesn’t indicate anything wrong with their service, but it does show that they have very few people visiting their website and therefore very few subscribers to their service.

        • Exactly. It’s also worth noting that many cloud companies do not actually have their own servers and instead rent capacity from one of the majors – Dropbox, for example, uses Amazon S3. And there are pros and cons to this. On the positive side of things, it means your stuff probably isn’t being stored on a hokey home-brewed server in a recently converted warehouse with a leaky sprinkler system and no lock on the front door; rather, it’s ensconced a nice purpose-built data centre. On the negative side of things, it means that you have absolutely no contractual relationship with the company that actually stores your data and that your ability to access it is entirely dependent on your cloud company paying its bills to Amazon, Google or whoever the back-end infrastructure provider may be (cloud companies’ contracts with providers typically enable the provider to switch off a service in the event of non-payment and to eventually delete the data in the event of continued non-payment – usually after either 30 or 60 days).

          As I mentioned above, this probably isn’t too much of a concern in the case of well-known companies like Dropbox, but it’s certainly something that should be considered in the case of smaller, less well-know companies. Take SafeCopy, for example – which I hadn’t heard of prior to this. Where do they keep customer’ data? Do they have their own data centre/s? Or do they rent capacity from Amazon, Google or Microsoft? Or…? The company’s website really doesn’t provide much information. Looking at Google Maps, it seems that the parent company’s office is located in a small strip mall along with a barber shop, a store that sells scrapbooking supplies, a dry cleaner and a frozen yogurt joint. Hmmm.

          To be clear, I’m in no way knocking SafeCopy. They may be an excellent company with which your data is perfectly safe. There’s really not way of knowing. And that, of course, is the problem: there’s no way of knowing.

  9. I’m curious if a person wants to use an online backup service and they choose one that offers a continuous backup, if they get a virus or rogue program on their computer, won’t the continuous backup also backup that virus, or is it somehow setup to recognize viruses and these new rogue programs?

    Good question, but I have no idea. It would depend on the specific service you’re using.

    Leo
    16-Aug-2010
    • Yes. Well, sort of. Viruses are basically just software programs and, like other programs, they are usually installed when you open a file. Online backup services generally only back up your personal data – photos, documents, etc. – and not your programs. Therefore, any virus that’s actually installed on your PC would likely not be backed up. That said, the file that contained the virus – the one that caused your PC to become infected when you opened it – could be backed up (files such as PDFs and Excel and Word documents can contain malicious code that’s designed to infect your PC when the file is opened). Consequently, it’s theoretically possible to reintroduce a virus by opening a file from an online backup.

      If you’ve wiped your computer because of a virus, it’d probably be a good idea to install a different antivirus/malware program – in other words, not the same one that allowed your PC to become infected in the first place – before restoring and opening any documents from your online backup.

      Of course, prevention is better than cure and Leo has some great articles about how to prevent your PC becoming infected in the first place.

    • I’m not sure why you singled out on-line backup? Because any kind of backup is going to have this problem, Infact most kinds of Malware/Viruses (the nastiest of them) automatically target USB/Firewire, etc connected devices

    • As I see it, the problem is not whether malware is copied to the cloud backup, but what the malware is doing to your files which are then copied or synchronised to the cloud backup. If a cryptovirus is running on a rampage on your harddisks, encrypting every file in your backed up folders, effectively making them inaccessible and useless to you, then those changes, the encryption of the files, are also synchronised to the cloud backup, so that your backup is also encrypted, inaccessible and useless.

      Some (if not all) cloud backup services will let you revert files to previous versions, so that in theory you can go back to an unencrypted version. However, this is generally only convenient for single files, such as if you messed up a Word document or a single picture; if like me you have several tens of thousands of photos stored, this is going to take ages.

      To me, the ideal arrangement is BOTH to have a cloud backup, because that is convenient and sufficient protection in most cases, AND to also periodically back your files up to one or more external drives which, very importantly, are ONLY connected to your computer WHILE you are backing up! A cryptovirus can’t do anything to a file on a drive that is not connected.

  10. I too use and online backup service that backups continuously and that is Safecopy backup but i have nerver got a virus.Actually it is great.But any way it depends.Everyone has a choice to make to choose an online backup service that suits his or her needs.Thanks for the post.

  11. I use Dropbox to sync files between multiple computers. It syncs my files automatically. It’s something that I need, and that’s why I started using Dropbox. I didn’t start using Dropbox for backup, but if anything catastrophic happened to my computers, I’d have my most important files.

  12. I use safecopy backup to backup multiple computers on a single account.And this backup service is so compatible with my mac and windows computers and inaddition,it is also cost effective.

  13. I thought, that, I had a good back up service, which is part of my Security service that I pay a lot of money for, but I recently had a BOOT problem and in the end had to do a clean install. When I had everthing back in place and upgraded all of the original stuff I went to my Security service and with a technician tried to find my backed up Document Files to restore them to computer, this took two days and Three Technicians and when all the Files had so called been restored I couldn’t find them and when I finally did my Photos which I just new were part of my Document file were gone and I have no way of finding them or even know where are they? my heart is broken since they were my babies new born pic, family gatherings, friends vacations and much more. I will never trust a back up online system again. Linda C.

    • I’m very sorry to hear your loss Linda, i know just how that feels, As a very similar thing has happened to me where i lost everything.
      I did not have online backup at the time, I think the best way to go is like Leo says’ incorporate it into a broader backup plan, i.e. don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

  14. I don’t think the backing-up of viruses is a realistic concern. Viruses are not likely to be contained in the type of files that one saves in their “Documents” folder. They have to be executable and, therefore, have to be hidden someplace in the operational part of the hard drive structure – probably in the “Programs” folder.

    • PDFs and other documents can indeed contain malicious code designed to exploit vulnerabilities in the application that handles the document (Adobe Reader, Word, etc.). While applications today will generally block or alert you to the possibility of potentially harmful code, it’s nonetheless best to exercise the same caution with documents as you would with any type of file.

  15. Realistically businesses should backup, for example my Uncle Tom recently had two drives in a four hard drive RAID10 Windows server fail, He spent $2500 recovering his data and some of it was corrupt! I recommended to him to order [an online backup service] because for $10/month he was covered!

    People often question security but most backup companies offer three tiers of security, you can read more about this on most of their websites.

    • Yup, everybody – businesses included – should be back up.

      But the cloud isn’t necessarily the best place to store those backups. What *is* best depends on how much data you have, how critical that data is, how quickly you need to be able to restore it, how much bandwidth you have a whole bunch of other factors. For a home user who doesn’t need/want to create system images and only has a few GBs of data, the cloud is really hard to beat. Things start to become less clear, however, when you have a few hundred GBs or a TB or more or data. Then local storage or a combination of local and cloud storage may make more sense. And for businesses, the situation is even more complex as issues such as systems compatibility, RPO and RTO will need to be factored into the equation.

      I’d be interested to hear which service your uncle is using to back up his Windows Server, as business-class/server solutions usually cost considerably more than $10/month. For example, Carbonites Server Backup costs from $799.99/year for 250GB.

  16. Leo you do have some good points, and I totally agree, you can’t back it ALL up (my friend said it took him over a month to backup is whole computer, and he didn’t turn it off (think of the electricity!)

    I think you missed one obvious positive that perhaps overrides many of the negatives though, online backup is a very simple, hassle free way of having a reliable 2nd copy of you most important files. Cost is an issue, but some services (I use {link removed}) allow you to backup 5 computers for the price of one. So now, even my mums ‘my documents’ and ‘my pictures’ are safe, which for most, is the only thing people care about!

    It still takes time for just the pictures, but I know for a fact if my mums computer were to break right now, I can say , ‘well, you’ve lost everything from the last week, but the rest is ok’, vs, ‘You’ve lost everything since you last ran that backup application I told you about’… you know what the answer would be; ‘what backup application you told me about’. So it’s online backup all the way for our family, and many of my friends have started using it since I pointed it out, it’s not the best, but it’s simple and automatic, which is the best!

    I actually agree with you, but the problem is many people don’t distinguish between backing up a few important files and backing up their computer. Using an online service is a fine way to backup important files, but when the computer dies many people are then very surprised to find out that they need to reinstall everything, and have lost all their customizations.

    Leo
    24-Aug-2011
  17. I’ve been using an online backup service next to Macrium Reflect for years. If I need to quickly restore files or even the entire computer, I can use the Macrium backup on my external HD. The reason for using an online service as well, is that if disaster strikes, there’ll be a way to retrieve unique data (photo’s, etc). The initial online backup took… (Drum roll…) Two months! (with the computer on for 24-7) 🙂 It was a few hundred Gigabytes…

    • Yes, and can you imagine how much time it would take to download those hundreds of gigabytes of online data? For extra bucks Carbonite offers a service where they will send send you a loaner drive with all your data on it. Of course your combination with Macrium backups is better/cheaper.

  18. I back up both locally and online. My online provider is Carbonite. I used to use Mozy, but when it came time to renew my subscription they raised the price by 350%. That is NOT an exaggeration. At the time I had about 300 Gb to back up. Carbonite doesn’t seem to care how large my backup is. The software works flawlessly in the background, and yes I have had to restore files, and that worked flawlessly also. I had a hard drive failure and my local backup was several days old. I have three external hard drives I use for local backup. One for a system image (Carbonite charges extra for a system image) and two for data. Carbonite does not back up all files by default, but it is quite simple to flag files and folders to be added to the backup. The Carbonite software is integrated with Windows Explorer, so all you have to do is right click and add files or folders to your backup.

    I inherited an enormous collection of family photos and home movies from my dad. There are about 10,000 slides and 50 reels of movie film going back to the 1930s. I’ve got these all scanned and am now working on a dozen large photo albums. This collection is priceless and I just can’t imagine how horrible it would be to lose it. I also have 60,000 of my own photos.

    I also have a large collection of live concert recordings that are not available commercially and would be difficult or impossible to replace. They all get backed up too. My Carbonite backup is now 103,000 files/463 Gb.

    You have to have a fast internet connection to back up this much data online. Even with high speed cable, the initial backup may take weeks.

    • You said: “I used to use Mozy, but when it came time to renew my subscription they raised the price by 350%. That is NOT an exaggeration.” Yeah, I recently looked at Mozy too and their pricing is certainly somewhat weird. You can back up 1 to 3 computers with less than 250GB data between them for $120/year. If you have either 2 or 3 computers, that pricing isn’t actually too bad. It’d cost $96/year to back up 2 computers with Carbonite or $144 to back up 3. And it’d cost $150 to backup 2 or 3 computers with CrashPlan. But if you only have 1 computer, Mozy’s $120/year is double CrashPlan’s rate of $60/year for a single computer and more than double Carbonite’s rate of $48. And if you have more than 3 computers and/or more than 250GB of data, Mozy’s pricing really gets crazy.

      I actually winder whether Mozy has more or less given up and, rather than try and win new customers with competitive pricing, is content to maximize short-term revenue by gouging existing customers who either don’t know that much better deals are available or who simply prefer to continue using a familiar service rather than do through the hassle of switching.

  19. I’m new to online backups, only using it now for about three months, but it gives me peace of mind knowing my important data, which is backed up daily, is being stored in an offsite location. I use Macrium Reflect 6, using techniques described in Leo’s book, to back up locally and I keep two copies of backups; one internal to my computer and one in a fireproof safe. It’s that third backup, with my online provider, that really gives me the warm and fuzzy.

    As to taking forever to upload my data – not a problem! My online provider sent me a hard drive to copy the files I wanted to be backed up. I sent the hard drive back to them, they uploaded it to their servers and away we went. With my slow upload speed it may have taken a month to upload all the files I had.

    I recommend to anyone who cares to listen – use an online service if you have files that you value. It only takes one disaster, locally, and they’re gone and it only costs you one less lunch per month for the service.

    Thanks again Leo – for another fine article.

  20. I’m concerned about the legal rights to my personal data stored online. If the storage company is sold or goes bankrupt, are there any laws protecting my data? Or could the bankrupt/sold company simply sell all their hardware or user information to a third party, with no legal penalties?

    • It all depends on the terms of service you agree to when you sign up for that service. And I’m no lawyer, and have no idea on the laws that would or would not relate.

    • That’s a risk you have to take and prepare against. I don’t know the legal aspects, but if a company with my data went belly up, I wouldn’t trust the legal aspect to protect me anyway. I use DropBox, and I also use Macrium Reflect. Any data I consider even the slightest bit sensitive, I encrypt with BoxCryptor inside DropBox.

    • As Leo stated, it depends on the terms of service. Additionally, it also depends on the laws of the country in which the company that holds your data is located AND the laws of the country in which that company’s physical servers are based – which may or may not be the same.

  21. Here is my backup system: I have two drives on my PC – C, which holds programs and the OS and S, which hold my data.

    So all I do once a month is use Acronis to clone each drive on another drive, identical to the original. So I have my C & S drives in my PC, and also a C & S copy, which I store away. This way, if my OS tanks I can restore it with the copy. Ditto for the data.

    If there’s a flaw in this system, please let me know but I’ve been using it for years.

    • As long as you have the C: drive backed up on an external drive, you’re doing well. One thing I’d add, well actually, I’ve added to that mix is a cloud backup of what I consider my essential data. In my case, I have a paid DropBox account which I use instead of the My Documents folder in which I put all of my user data. Before, I used to use BackBlaze, which is similar to Carbonite. I now prefer DropBox, because in addition to being a backup, I keep my two computers and a portion of my tablet’s data synchronized. If my house burns down, all of my data is available. If I need a file at work, I can get it in seconds. I have an off-site backup (my locker at work) but I often don’t get around to swapping it out often enough.

  22. I’m surprised not to see anyone mention MediaFire. It’s not my prime back-up but I use it as a third medium for really important stuff like my book and Family Trees, photos and music. The prime back up is still an external hard-drive that backs up daily and a further external that is copied from the original every week.

    It has a function called MediaFire Express which mimics the online folders and files. If I update a file, I only need to copy and paste it into the relevant MediaFire Express folder and it then synchronises with the online folder/file. Simples.

  23. I support my interpretation of Leo’s principle: any backup is good, but some are better. I use DropBox for sharing data among all of my computers. It works great. It also allows me to recover from some mistakes that I make usually in the short term. I have used Carbonite over the last three years, but as my subscription is running out, I will let it lapse. It was OK, but with DropBox and my own local backup method it is no longer needed.

    I have installed a second hard drive on my main computer. I use it to daily back up the system that includes my DropBox data. The DropBox data includes important and potentially daily changing data on my other computers as well. So, if any of my computers encounters a problem, I have a means of restoring it daily. In addition, I do weekly system backup on a Network Accesses Storage (NAS) device from any of my computers that change data. So, even without my local daily backup, I have weekly backup on that external device on my LAN. It took a while to figure out the needs and the solutions. The hardware cost on the long run was no more than about $500. I also have the annual DropBox cost of about $100. Considering all the capability that these software and hardware provide, it is great. As an aside, I have been using Macrium Reflect 5.0. It is robust, reliable, and works great with local drives and the NAS.

  24. I believe in cloud storage, yes–along with other another local backup. What if you only have an online backup and XXX company you have a cloud storage with suddenly goes bankrupt and the public relations person says: “Very sorry, but our corporate servers have gone to the pawn shop to pay our liquidation expenses.”

  25. I have been using IDrive and I am considering eliminating it altogether. I use Macrium with a USB 3.0 External Drive and have had to use it after trying Windows 10, and then my computer went blue screen and crashed. With my backup system, it took approx. 6 hours to recover and get my Windows 7 platform up and running. Everything worked perfectly with Macrium. I just wonder with the cloud, how many hours would it have taken and how reliable would it have been. IDrive is always running, slowing down my machine and 90% of the files backed up, error reports follow. Has anyone had to use the cloud to recover all their files? I would like to know how successful they were and the length of time to recover.

  26. If iDrive impacts your computer’s performance and doesn’t enable you to reliably restore files, it’d probably be best to try another solution. CrashPlan is one of the more popular online backup services and seems to be well regarded. I backup to a fire/water/theft resistant hard drive. They cost about $350 which isn’t too bad if you compare it to the cost of online backup spread over 5 years. That said, as an additional precaution, I also keep a copy of my most critical stuff in the cloud (using OneDrive).

  27. Speaking of viruses on backups, I image everything daily on two alternating external hard disks with Macrium Reflect Professional 5.3. I recently realized that just scanning those disks for viruses is useless and gives a false sense of security : I need to mount the image manually before the anti-virus can explore the file.

    I’m not sure whether this is related to the fact that I set Macrium to encrypt my backups (which I consider absolutely necessary), but it certainly prevents the scanning process from being readily automated.

    It could be argued that if one’s anti-virus has let slip some malware on one’s working computer, it wont’ detect it either on backups. That’s one more reason to do a virus scan before restoring – maybe with a different anti-virus.

    I’m considering adding some cloud backing to this, probably only for some vital data files.

    Does anyone know of a review comparing free cloud services from the encryption and privacy angle ?

    • Encrypting the backup shouldn’t make any difference. Antivirus programs wouldn’t be able to see what’s inside the backup image even if it’s unencrypted. That’s one argument for keeping backups for at least a couple of months, so you can go back to a virus free state.

      There is a way to do a virus scan on a backup, though. You can mount it as a virtual drive using the backup program and scan that virtual drive.

      • I don’t scan backups as I would never restore an image of an infected computer. IMO, in cases of infection, it’s best to simply reinstall the OS and restore only documents. I’d only use an image to correct non-virus-related issues.

    • Pretty much every online backup/storage service enables data to be encrypted and, in pretty much every case, the encryption used is strong enough that it’s extremely unlikely to be broken (I say “pretty much every” because there may be some that don’t fall into this category – but I can’t think of any!).

      With some services, however, users’ data is encrypted with a key that the company holds on its servers – which means that it could be accessed by an employee of the company. To be clear, companies are usually very clear about the circumstances in which this may happen – Dropbox, for example, say “We may disclose to parties outside Dropbox files stored in your Dropbox and information about you that we collect when we have a good faith belief that disclosure is reasonably necessary to (a) comply with a law, regulation or compulsory legal request; (b) protect the safety of any person from death or serious bodily injury; (c) prevent fraud or abuse of Dropbox or its users; or (d) to protect Dropbox’s property rights. If we provide your Dropbox files to a law enforcement agency as set forth above, we will remove Dropbox’s encryption from the files before providing them to law enforcement.” It does, however, introduce a small element of risk: an employee could decide to peek at your data or the company could be tricked into wrongfully disclosing data. And, of course, you also need to trust the company to abide by its Terms of Service.

      If you’re not comfortable with the idea of a third-party holding your encryption key, the best option is to either a) use a service that enables you to encrypt data using a personal key that is not stored on the company’s servers – CrashPlan and Backblaze, for example – or b) if you’re going to use a service that doesn’t support personal key encryption – Dropbox, Box and Google Drive, etc. – use a utility such as TrueCrypt to encrypt your data locally prior to uploading it.

  28. I have used the Carbonite service for many years but have not had to actually test the service to restore anything. I bought an iDrive last year (Apr 2015) and let it sit because I was not sure if all my stuff would fit on it. Also, I heard that it slows down the computer and I don’t want that to happen. So, it sits in the box and it’s too late to get a refund. Is there any external hard drive back up that does not slow down a computer or do they all do that? I need to investigate the OneDrive cloud more. Thanks for all the helpful information in this thread.

    • An external hard drive doesn’t slow your system. What slows down your system is the backup process. This is unavoidable as it requires system resources to copy files. What I don’t understand about your question is that you are talking about iDrive as a physical drive. As I understand it, iDrive is an online file syncing program similar to DropBox or OneDrive. From my experience, I haven’t felt the effects of any slowdown with DropBox, and my Macrium and EaseUS backups don’t slow me down as I schedule them to run when I’m not using my computer. And even when I use my computer during a backup the slowdown is rarely noticeable.

  29. I back up most of my data to OneDrive and some to Google Drive. But I recently discovered that the last Windows 10 upgrade shut off Google Sync and Backup on my system and it wasn’t backing up anymore. So I reinstalled it and it’s now working fine again. The point is that its a good idea to test drive your online data once in a while to make sure its actually happening.

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