Backing up is kind of like eating healthier: everyone knows we should, and few of us actually do. Much like the heart attack victim who no longer binges on french fries, when it comes to backing up, the most religious are those who’ve been bitten hard by a failure in their past.
Asking what backup program to use is very much like asking, “What’s the best exercise program?”
The best program for exercise — or backup — is whichever one you’ll actually do. In order to choose what’s going to work best for you, there are several questions to ask.
Mobile phones are amazing devices. They’re much more than just having your email or social media at your fingertips; they’re truly portable general-purpose computers that also happen to be able to make phone calls.
We do a lot with our phones. Because they’re always with us, they’re one of our primary means of content consumption — everything from social media to news to maps to ebooks and more — as well as our primary means of communication (though ironically, rarely by actually using the telephone) and one of our primary content-creation devices as well, in the form of photos and videos.
As tiny computers, we’ve come to rely on them to store data, act as security keys, wallets, fitness trackers, automotive trackers, and dozens of things I can’t even think of right now.
Given everything we use our phones for, to say that we shouldn’t lose them is stating the obvious. And yet lose them we do. I’m going to review some of the things you need to be aware of when (not if) you lose your phone, and some of the ways you can mitigate the damage when it happens.
I’ve long recommended password managers like Roboform and LastPass to keep track of passwords for all online accounts. Besides offering an incredible level of convenience, these tools give you a greater level of security by making it practical to use truly long and complex passwords and generate different ones for every site.
But, as with all things relating to security, there are risks.
For example, what happens if you forget your LastPass master password? Master passwords cannot be recovered. While there are a couple of options that might regain access to your password vault, the worst-case scenario is that you lose the vault — and everything in it — forever.
Not to keep beating the same old drum, but the best solution is very simple.
Subscribe to The Ask Leo! Newsletter and get the 88-page Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet – FREE Edition digital download as a gift. Based in part on this article, the Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet – FREE Edition will help you identify the most important steps you can take to keep your computer and yourself safe as you navigate today’s digital landscape.
Viruses and spyware and worms … oh my!
The very concept of “internet safety” is almost an oxymoron these days.
It seems not a day goes by that we don’t hear some new kind of threat aimed at wreaking havoc across machines connected to the internet.
Here are some things you can (and should) do to stay safe.
How do I “back up” my computer? I am sure my question is ridiculous to you, but I honestly have no clue what I should be doing.
Your question isn’t ridiculous at all. In fact, I’m certain it’s one reason so many people don’t back up: they simply don’t know how.
For something as critically important as backing up, that’s more than a little scary. I hear from people who lose important, valuable information all the time. Whether it’s from malware, hardware failure, account hacks, or other disasters, a backup can easily prevent such loss.
First, let’s look at what it means to back up a computer, and what your options are. Then, I’ll share some guidelines and tell you what I recommend for typical users.
Windows 10 backup appears to offer two options: ‘File History’ and ‘Backup and Restore (Windows 7)’. Since upgrading to Windows 10, I have continued to back up using the ‘Backup and Restore (Windows 7)’ option, mainly because I have set up it up to take a system image as well as copy user files, and it doesn’t look as though that is offered with the ‘File History’ option. However the reference to Windows 7 bothers me – am I really backing up in an appropriate way for a Windows 10 system? I would appreciate your advice on this.
In fact, built-in Windows backup continues a history of disappointment. Like Windows 7 and 8 before it, Windows 10 backup is at best only “acceptable”, meaning it has enough functionality to be better than nothing at all. Sadly, even that represents an improvement over previous versions of Windows.
And, no, I don’t consider “better than nothing” to be a ringing endorsement.
I wrote to suggest, …, that you write an article IN CAPITAL LETTERS if necessary that verifying a back-up is exigent. Exigent.
As you might expect, after doing this for over a decade, there are individuals that I hear from fairly regularly, and whose names and/or email addresses become quite familiar to me. Over time, they start to feel like extended family.
This comment came from one of my long-time readers – a member of that family – after she detailed a story of … well, it really all boils down to this heartbreaking statement:
I had FIVE YEARS’ worth of files backed up in multiple places […]. Leo, I am astonished–just mind-blowingly astonished: while both [external drives had] backed up random, helter-skelter, files–sometimes redundant to the point of absurdity–BOTH did not make a backup.
She experienced a failed Windows 10 upgrade, and restored to Windows 7 only to find that massive amounts of data had been lost in the process.
A member of the family requests that we all learn from her painful experience.
My hard drive states that failure is imminent and I should replace it immediately. My questions are as follows: When I replace my hard drive, will I need to install a new operating system? Is there a way to clone my current hard drive completely including my operating system? If I am able to clone my entire hard drive, will I need hardware or some device to set up between the old hard drive and the new while I do the transfer? What is the best way to save my existing files if I can’t salvage my entire hard drive? Are there software programs that can help me do this?
There are indeed programs that can help.
They’re called “backup programs”.
While there are many, many ways to do what you’re looking to do, I’m going to review what I think is the most appropriate way.
In fact, it’s the exact way that I frequently do exactly what you’re asking about.
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.
On your recommendation I recently purchased an external drive to use as a place to put my backups. I was surprised to find that it came with free backup software included. Why wouldn’t I just use that instead of downloading or even purchasing something else?
I get this question a lot, so you’re most certainly not alone in wondering.
Here’s my take on the situation: I don’t know what free backup software came with your drive.
This past month I’ve focused a little more specifically on backups. Not that every month isn’t “backup month” here at Ask Leo!, but at the risk of over-saturating you with backup-related information, I elected to try and run with a little bit of a theme.
Today, I want to explain why.
I’ve been running a little survey, and the results are not encouraging.
Just had to break the news to a friend that the photos on the hard drive that failed – the contents of which we WERE able to recover thanks to some hard disk utilities – turned out to be encrypted by ransomware (CryptoWall), and we had no way to decrypt them. And no, they didn’t have a recent backup. (And yes, there were some VERY important photos on there. I’m hoping that they’ll recover some at least from friends and family with whom they shared ’em.)
This is why, folks. This is why I harp and harp and harp on backing up. Seriously. Sh*t happens. Sometimes its benign, and sometimes its downright heartbreaking. PLEASE back up.
I want to go into that in just a little more detail, and expand on how this could have all been very close to a non-event.
I get variations of this question all the time. I also get questions about backing up in general where folks are backing up to DVDs.
This is also one of those questions where the answer has changed over time. What was once a reasonable and common practice is now something that at best is impractical, and at worst a disaster waiting to happen.
The short answer: heck no! You should not back up to DVDs.
You’ve mentioned that you back up Gmail somewhere on your own computer; how do you do that?
Of all the current free email services, Gmail is my favorite. I know I’ve railed against free email services as your only email service, but they definitely have their place. And Gmail is the service I recommend.
In part, I recommend it because I can answer this question. Gmail is very easy to back up.
I’m in the process of finishing up my Windows 8.1 backup book, Saved! Backing Up With Windows 8 Backup. It’s in editing as I type this, and I’ll soon be putting the finishing touches on the companion videos. I hope to have it available within a couple of weeks.
It’s an important book because I know that many people don’t want to shell out more money for my standard recommendation for backing up, Macrium Reflect. If there’s backup software already in Windows they’d prefer to just use that … for free.
The problem is I learned quite a bit about Windows 8.1’s backup as I researched and wrote the book.
Something I’ve said for a long time is that your approach to change – particularly change that’s out of your control – is one of the biggest factors that will determine just how successful you are at using technology. The better you can handle change, the happier you’ll be. I’m absolutely convinced of it.
Note that I’m not saying you need to like all change. Not all change is good.
I’m currently working on my next book, Saved! Backing Up with Windows 8 Backup, and I’m running into some changes that are so incomprehensible it’s making me think “WTH Microsoft?!”
Let me explain how I avoid ulcers in this ever-changing world of technology.
Hi, Leo. A little less than two years ago I bought a new Acer Aspire laptop with Windows 7 Home Premium with a 320 GB hard drive. I currently backup weekly to a DVD and it shows currently 1120 files are backed up. When I bought this laptop, they included a Mukii TIP-230SU-BK external hard drive that plugs into a USB port. The info on the box says it’s compatible with any 2.5 inch SATA hard drive. Would this unit, assuming it works correctly, be better for an external backup than the DVDs I’m now using?
My short answer is yes. I now always recommend using an external drive over backing up to DVD for an assortment of reasons.
But first, we really need to figure out just exactly what it is you have.
I often talk about computer failures of various sorts and what you should be prepared for: the crash that happens just before you save your document to disk, the failure that renders a disk completely unreadable and unrecoverable, or the computer that dies the true death taking all of your data with it.
You know the drill. Hopefully by now, you’re prepared for that.
But by being prepared for that, you’re actually only ready for one half of a somewhat-related disaster.
I have a desktop running Windows 7 and plan to follow your suggestions for backing up. But having never used an external hard drive, I’m overwhelmed with the choices and could use some direction. My internal hard drive is a 500 GB SATA and the USB I have is 2.0. Can you recommend some guidelines: 2 ½ inches or 3 ½? 5400 vs 7200-RPM? 500 GB vs a terabyte? Which brands are the most reliable, etc?
Can I make a specific recommendation? No. The problem with this type of recommendation is that the industry is constantly changing over time, in some really fundamental ways. Often it seems, those changes happen immediately after I make a recommendation!
Instead, I’m going to review one recommendation that I just made to a friend of mine. Then I’ll discuss some of the characteristics of the drives that you asked about.
Hi, Leo. I have 2 computers with the same problem: one is Windows XP Pro and the other is Windows XP Home. On both computers, System Restore fails as soon as there is a Microsoft Security Essentials restore point entry in System Restore. If I remove all restore points, System Restore works fine. I’ve tested it many times. As soon as MSE creates and updates a restore point, System Restore fails to restore again. Any ideas?
In my experience answering questions here on Ask Leo! since the day System Restore was introduced, it’s been a source of many problems. You can think of these problems as hidden land mines. System Restore may appear to work. It may do something in the background, or it may silently fail. And you don’t really know until you need or want a restore point. Basically, as in your case, it just doesn’t seem to work when people expect it to.
There’s also a common problem of people thinking of it as a backup, which of course it’s not at all.
Recently, my computer has been making a very loud grinding noise when I boot from cold. It seems to take forever to stop and everything goes very slow during this time. What is this and how can I correct whatever is wrong?
There are two possibilities that come to mind. One is something that you should deal with, but it’s nothing to really panic over.
The other is definitely worth panicking about. And in fact, given that your machine is running slowly while this is happening, it might be time to start panicking right now.