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Calling for (Data) Backup, Part 2

There are many ways to create backups — pick one (or more)

CHICAGO — Having multiple copies of a company’s data is not only recommended; it is crucial to get a business back up and running in the event of a drive failure, a natural disaster or an attack by cybercriminals.

This was the message of “Practical Things You Should Be Aware of About Computers and Backup,” a recent webinar sponsored by the Drycleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI). Leading the discussion was Chris Birk, chief information officer at American Stationery. Birk has worked and has strong family ties in the drycleaning field, is a certified garment care professional and longtime DLI member. He was joined by Brandon Chance, head of IT at American Stationery, and Lucas Bowman, American Stationery’s head of website tech.

In Part 1, we went over the types of hard drives users have to choose from to store their data. Today, we’ll examine some of the available methods to create copies of their valuable data.

Why Bother to Backup?

There are many reasons to make sure you have a reliable backup of your computer system, Birk says, beyond just to guarantee against a simple hard drive failure. These reasons include guarding against natural disasters, such as a tornado, fire, flood, hurricane, lightning strike or other physical catastrophe. In the event that a computer is stolen, having a backup can also be the lifeline to get your system running again. “You could also have a major goof up and need an older copy of a file back,” he says, “and ransomware is really becoming an issue these days.”

Ransomware is an attack where a cybercriminal will sneak a bit of code onto the victim’s computer and allows him or her to encrypt the data on the drive. The criminal will then contact the user and demand a ransom — often to be paid in bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies — to unlock the computer. One of the reasons to have a clean backup is to be able to restore the system without having to pay the ransom. “There is never a guarantee that if you pay the ransom, you will get the key that will restore your system,” Birk says.

Backing Up Terms

Mirroring — With this method, a second hard drive is used to copy everything that is written to the primary hard drive. So, if the primary drive goes out, it can be swapped with the secondary drive with no data loss.

While mirroring introduces redundancy to the system, which is a good thing when it comes to data, it’s not, in the strictest of terms, a “backup.” “If you delete a file accidentally on your drive, it’ll mirror that to the other drive, and the file is gone forever,” Bowman says. Also, if your computer is struck by a virus or ransomware intrusion, the mirrored drive will also have the same problem.

Air Gapping — If an external drive used for backing up data is always connected to the computer, it can be vulnerable to the same factors as the primary drive. “If your computer gets encrypted with ransomware,” Bowman says, “after the hard drive gets encrypted, that ransomware will then encrypt everything that’s on the backup drive. Your backup is useless.”

When using air gapping, Bowman says, there is a separation (“air”) between the computer and the backup device. “In this example, every day or week you plug in a drive, you make a backup and you unplug it from your PC,” Bowman says. “Say you make a backup on Friday, and on Monday you’re hit with ransomware. Because your backup is detached from your computer, the copy you made over the weekend is safe.”

Round Robin — In order to lower the risk, Chance advises users to back their data up to not one, but several drives. “What if the backup device goes bad or is lost to the same disaster as the main drive? Then you have no backup. Instead, use a local backup that you remove and, preferably, take off site. You should have several of these devices, so you have multiple generations of backups. Label them ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D,’ if you have four drives, and use a different one each day or week.” By using this “round robin” technique, the user not only multiplies their chances of having a reliable, safe backup, but if a file is corrupted or accidentally deleted, there’s a better chance of recovering it on one of the drives with the older archive.

Common Methods of Creating Backups

There are several methods of backing up drives, Birk says, and using a combination of them all can provide the best guarantee of complete recovery should the worst happen. “You can never have too much backup,” Birk says, “and a mix of all three can be your best protection.”

Local Onsite Backup — “This might be a thumb drive or an external USB drive, or even copying the contents of one computer onto a spare drive in another PC on the network,” Birk says. “The advantage of this sort of backup is that the access to the files can be fast.

Local Backup Taken Offsite — “Again, this can be using a thumb or external USB drive,” Birk says. “This can be more than one drive, used in a ‘round robin’ fashion. This gives you air gapping.” Also, if the drives are taken offsite, that provides a layer of protection against disaster.

Cloud Backup — “Sometimes there is some mystique about ‘backing up to the cloud,’” Birk says, “but we’re simply talking about online backup.” With this method, data is sent via the internet to an online storage service. Some examples of this type of service are Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, Carbonite, iDrive, Backblaze and others. Some of the main benefits of these services are that many can be set to automatically back up your data, and the copy is safely offsite, so no matter what happens to the computer, the data is protected.

There is the question of which data should be backed up. “You might have attached to your computer an external hard drive or large thumb drive that you dumped critical documents and files onto,” Birk says. “It doesn’t contain a whole backup of your PC — simply the most critical. Then, perhaps once a week, you plug in an external hard drive and make a complete clone of your hard drive that you round-robin with a couple of these removable drives.”

“You can never have too much backup,” Chance says, “and a mix of all three can be your best protection.”

Come back Thursday for the conclusion, where we’ll take a look at ways to keep hard drives from failing in the first place, along with a final work about backups. For Part 1, Click HERE.