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How can I best secure my computer?

Everyone loses data at some point in their lives. Your computer's hard drive may fail tomorrow, ransomware could hold your files hostage, or a software bug could erase your important files. If you do not back up your computer on a regular basis, you can lose those files forever.

However, backups do not have to be hard or confusing. You've probably heard of countless different backup methods, but which one is right for you? And what files do you have to secure ?

Your Personal Information

Let's start with the obvious: What do you need to back up? Well, first of all you have to back up your personal files. You can reinstall your operating system at any time and re-download your programs if your hard drive fails, but your personal information is irreplaceable.

Personal documents, photos, home videos and other data on your computer should be backed up regularly. These can never be replaced. If you've spent hours trying to copy audio CDs or video DVDs, you might want to back up those files too, so you do not have to get everything done again.

Your operating system, programs, and other settings can also be backed up. You do not necessarily have to secure it, but it can make your life easier if your entire hard drive fails. If you're one of those who like to play around with system files, edit the registry, and update your hardware on a regular basis, a full system backup can save time if problems occur.

The Many Ways to Back Up Your Files

There are many ways to back up your data, from using an external drive to backing up these files to a remote server over the Internet. Here are the strengths and weaknesses of each:

  • Backing up to an External Drive : If you have an external USB hard drive, you can easily access this drive with the built-in backup features of your computer. For Windows 1
    0 and 8, use file history. For Windows 7, use Windows Backup. Use Time Machine on Macs. Occasionally connect the drive to the computer and use the backup tool, or always leave it connected when you work at home, and a backup will automatically be made. Pro : Backup is cheap and fast. Disadvantages : If your house is robbed or gets burned, your backup may get lost along with your computer, which is very bad.

  • Secure over the Internet : If you want to make sure your files stay secure, you can secure them on the Internet with a service like Backblaze. Backblaze is the well-known online backup service we like and recommend, as CrashPlan no longer serves home users, but there are also competitors like Carbonite and MozyHome. For a small monthly fee (about $ 5 per month), these programs will run in the background on your PC or Mac and automatically back up your files to the service's web store. If you ever lose these files and need them again, you can restore them. Benefits : Online backup protects you from data loss of any kind – hard drive failure, theft, natural disasters and everything in between. Cons : These services usually cost money (see the next section for more information). The initial backup can take much longer than would be the case with an external drive many files.

  • Using a Cloud Storage Service : Backup purists will say that technically this is not a backup method, but for most people this is a similar purpose. Instead of storing your files only on your computer's hard drive, you can save them to a service like Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or a similar cloud storage service. You will then automatically sync with your online account and other PCs. If your hard drive fails, you still have the copies of the files online and stored on your other computers. Pro : This method is simple, fast and in many cases free. Being online, it protects you from all kinds of data loss. Disadvantages : Most cloud services only provide a few gigabytes of free space. This works only if you have a small number of files that you want to back up, or if you're ready for extra storage. Depending on the files you want to back up, this method can be simpler or more complicated than a simple backup program.

While backup programs such as backblaze and cloud storage services like Dropbox are both online backups, they generally work differently. Dropbox is used to synchronize your files between PCs, while Backblaze and similar services back up large volumes of files. Backblaze stores multiple copies of the different versions of your files so you can restore the file exactly as it was from many points in the course of the file. While services like Dropbox are free for a limited amount of storage space, the low price of Backblaze is as big as you like. Depending on how much data you have, one could be cheaper than the other.

Backblaze and Carbonite have a big limitation that you should keep in mind. If you delete a file on your computer, it will be deleted from your online backups after 30 days. You can not restore a deleted file or the previous version of a file after this 30-day period. So be careful if you delete these files if you want to recover them.

One backup is not enough: Use Multiple Methods

RELATED: You do not back up properly unless you have external backups

So, which one should you use? Ideally you use at least two of them. Why? Because you want both Offsite and Onsite Backups .

"Onsite" literally means backups stored in the same physical location as you. So if you back up to an external hard drive and save it to your home PC at home, it's a backup on the spot.

External backups are stored in a different location. So backing up to an online server like Backblaze or Dropbox is offsite backup.

Onsite backups are faster and easier, and should be your first defense against data loss. If you lose files, you can quickly recover them from an external drive. However, you should not rely solely on field backups. If your home burns down or all the hardware is stolen by thieves, you lose all your files.

Offsite backups also do not have to be a server on the Internet, and you do not have to pay a monthly subscription for one. You can back up your files to a hard drive and store them, for example, in your office, at a friend's, or in a vault. This would be a bit more uncomfortable, but technically it's an offsite backup.

You can also save your files to Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive and perform regular backups on an external drive. Or you can use Backblaze for Online Backup and Windows File History to create a local backup. There are many ways to share these services, and it's up to you how you do it. Make sure you have a solid backup strategy with offsite backups and on site, so you have a broad security network against the loss of your files.

Automate It!

It All Sounds Complicated The more you automate your backup system, the more often you can back up and the more likely you are to stick with it. For this reason, you should use an automated tool instead of copying files by hand to an external drive. You can set it up only once and forget it.

That's one reason why we really like online services like Backblaze. When you make a backup over the Internet, it can be done automatically every day. If you need to connect an external drive, you will need to make more effort, which means you will not need to back up and possibly stop. Keeping everything automatic is worth the price.

If you do not want to pay anything and want to rely primarily on local backups, consider using a synchronization service such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive to sync your important data files online. In this way, if you lose the local backup, you will have at least one online copy.

Ultimately, all you have to do is think about where your files are and make sure you have multiple copies at all times. Ideally, these copies should be in more than one physical location. As long as you actually think about what to do when your computer dies, you should be way ahead of most people.

Photo credit: Mario Goebbels on Flickr

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