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Journalist expires digitally: A cautionary tale

Mat Honan, a Wired writer who was savvy enough to get the Twitter handle @mat, lost all of his so-called digital life when a hacker erased everything.

Apparently, Honan had put his trust in Apple's iCloud. Through some "clever social engineering," a hacker got part of Honan's social security number and other details from Amazon, which were leveraged to get into his iCloud account, erase everything, and lock him out.

His cautionary tale of woe is worth reading.

Honan was wiped clean and had no local backup. Gmail, gone. iPhone, data gone. All data everywhere, gone. Why bother to back up locally after all? The cloud is great. Just rely completely on it and the unseen third parties that operate it.

As an aside, I should mention that even if your account is wiped clean, you should be able to get an archived version put back in place with very little loss. That's if you have a personal relationship with the provider. I assume none of this personal service is possible with iCloud.

Since Honan is a young writer, one can assume that he can retrieve all his writing from the archives of those publications. His only real losses are personal notes, drafts, and a cache of photos of his young daughter. Exactly why anyone would trust photos solely to the cloud is beyond me. I know plenty of other people besides Honan who do it, though I don't know any professional photographers who would operate in such a way. Everyone should back up three times, at least. That means an initial backup, a secondary backup of that, and an off-site backup.

I have been taking digital photos since the mid-90s, so as you might imagine, I have a lot of them. I'm totally paranoid about losing my photos and was freaked recently when my photos of a 2005 trip to Bilbao, Spain seemed to be missing from my primary photo drive. I have just under a terabyte of images on that drive.

I thought this was odd and then went to backup number one. The photos were not there. At this point, I was concerned, so I then visited the backup drive I keep off-site. They weren't there either. It was ridiculous.

This made some sense because the first backup and the off-site backup tend to be copies of the main photo drive. It is derived from the photo cache I maintain on my main network drive. Somehow, this one folder of photos must never have been put on the network drive. It could have been left on the laptop I use when traveling. When I travel, I tend to back up my photos to a laptop while keeping the flash memory cards full too, just in case. I offload everything when I get home, then distribute to the backups every so often.

Unfortunately, that laptop, a Toshiba Portege, had failed a couple of years ago and would not boot. Now, I could live without this one folder of photos but I was seriously annoyed by this loss since I try to maintain multiple copies of photos and articles.

By the way, I cannot see how difficult it is to buy a 2TB drive and run some background backup programs instead of slowly moving files to the cloud at 10Mbps.

Anyway, I ended up finding the photos after all. They were on a DVD. I tend to make one more DVD backup of trips abroad. Bingo.

Maybe I go overboard with this sort of layered backup, but how hard can it be? It's cheap, too. This is on top of routine backups done by some software that came with a Seagate drive.

Not to mention, I keep backups of all my columns on a flash drive that I keep off-site.

Maybe all this is overkill, but who needs to deal with regret? Losing the Bilbao pictures was merely annoying, but losing all your so-called digital life is not good for the spirit. Leave the cloud to others, or use it as an off-site backup and keep an eye on it.

The real question with the Mat Honan story, though, is what the heck did the hacker have against him? Sheesh.