How Do I Back Up My Computer?

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.

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Five Reasons I Went All-in with Dropbox

I use Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and Amazon Web Service’s Simple Storage Service (S3) for online or “cloud” storage and backup. Each has their pros and cons, and each has their role in my setup.

I was reviewing my costs recently. I noted that I have over a terabyte of photographs safely backed up to S3, and concluded that S3 is both inconvenient (it isn’t really “simple” to access) and possibly my most expensive option.

Thanks to a recent change, I’ve settled on Dropbox as my most effective online storage solution.

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Back Up Smartphone Photos Using Dropbox

I’m going to take a small departure from my usual PC-centric discussions, and talk for a moment about using your smartphone.

Specifically, since I’m such a fan of Dropbox, I want to show you how to install and use Dropbox as an automatic way of backing up the photographs you take using your smartphone.

I’ll use my old Android-based Samsung Galaxy Note for these examples, but the concept applies to just about any smartphone running either IOS or Android.

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BoxCryptor: Secure Your Data in the Cloud

One of the hidden issues in online storage is privacy. Almost all online storage providers have the ability to examine your data or hand it over to law enforcement even if the provider has encrypted your data.

Hopefully, most of us will never have to deal with the law-enforcement scenario, but even the realization that a rogue employee at an online data storage provider could peek into what we keep online can cause concern. For some, it’s enough concern to avoid using cloud storage at all.

The solution is simple: encrypt the data yourself.

Unfortunately, implementing that “simple” solution isn’t always that simple or transparent, and can add a layer of complexity to online storage some find intimidating.

BoxCryptor is a nicely unobtrusive encryption solution that is free for personal use.

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Dropbox: Share files Across Machines, with Friends, and Publicly, for Free

I’ve been using Dropbox for a quite some time now, and was recently reminded of a compelling reason to finally recommend it to you.

One of the common questions I get is “how do I share [files, photos, documents, whatever] with my [friends, business associates, contacts] without using email, and without having them show up on the public internet?”

Dropbox solves that, and a lot more.

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An Abundance of Cloud Storage

With Amazon announcing that Prime members can now store unlimited pictures in their cloud, it drove home to me just how much things have changed in just the last few years.

Cloud storage was at first an interesting concept, then a rare but useful commodity, then a differentiating feature between services.

And now? Not only is it ubiquitous to the point of being almost expected, but some aspects are almost, dare I say it, annoying.

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If I Use a Cloud Sync Program to Back Up, Won’t Accidental Deletions Delete the Backup?

You recommended backing up with online programs including Skydrive, Google Drive, etc. but these sync all the computers on the system. Can you not then lose files that get accidentally deleted? I used to back up my copy to another networked computer, but fear that now I may lose info on all of them if something does me in on one. I didn’t notice any discussion of this in Backing Up: 101. I’ve been following your newsletter for years and appreciate it. I only wish I had time to read more.

You are correct. With the way that your backup is set up, you could lose files, but there are a couple of safety nets and at least one clarification.

To begin with, when you use a file syncing or cloud-based file-sharing service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or SkyDrive, you need to remember that they should be part of an overall backup strategy.

Read moreIf I Use a Cloud Sync Program to Back Up, Won’t Accidental Deletions Delete the Backup?

How do I send someone a large file?

OK, I get that using email to send large files has lots of problems. So how am I supposed to do it? I have a large file that I need to send to someone; if I shouldn’t use email, what can I do?

A fair question.

Email certainly has the convenience factor nailed: add an attachment, press Send, and off it goes. The problem is that it might not get wherever you want it to go.

When it comes to large files in particular, we need to look at things just a little differently.

Read moreHow do I send someone a large file?

How Can I Back Up My Data More or Less Continuously?

How can I backup my work on a running basis throughout the day so that I don’t lose hours of work through hardware failure or accidental deletion? A friend lost his presentation yesterday while amending it an hour before delivery because of a thumb drive failure. I sometimes accidentally delete parts of my work during the day and have to do them again. My solution is to intermittently save to a file name with “PROTECT” added as the name and on a different drive; but this is clunky, takes time, and is unreliable because it depends on me remembering to do it. Are there automatic options to achieve this purpose?

I feel your friend’s pain. Anybody that has used a computer for any length of time, particularly in business or when giving presentations, has been in his shoes.

Let’s talk about some ways to avoid a repeat.

Read moreHow Can I Back Up My Data More or Less Continuously?

Do I need to have a separate data backup if I backup my system regularly?

I’m evaluating a free version of Macrium Reflect. If I make a disk image, it contains everything that I need to restore my Windows XP and also my data such as documents and settings, etc. Now if I do incremental backups to this full disk backup, it backs up my data and the OS files. Given that, why do I need to have a separate full backup of my data only and then make differential backups of the data only? Is not all of that covered in the system backup?

It sounds like there’s some confusion here about the types of backups and when you may want to use them.

No, you don’t necessarily have to do an additional backup of your data. Ultimately, it depends on what you’re working on and what you can withstand to lose.

Read moreDo I need to have a separate data backup if I backup my system regularly?