Your antivirus tool will keep the bad guys from installing a keylogger to steal your passwords, or deleting all your files on a significant date, but your data and files face other dangers. If your computer gets soaked by an office flood or the hard drive suffers an unrecoverable crash, antivirus can't help. And, let's face it, sometimes the bad guys get around security software. To make sure you don't lose essential data, you absolutely must set up a system of regular backups.
DIY? Maybe not
There are tons of simple things you can do to ensure you don't lose specific super-important files. You can keep a copy on a USB stick in your pocket, for example. Or email the file to yourself as an attachment, and leave it in your Inbox. Or you could copy your most important files to another drive periodically.
The problem with most DIY solutions is that while they ensure you don't lose access to the protected file, they also expose it to more risk. Email is inherently insecure, so emailing sensitive data isn't a great idea. You might drop a USB drive while fumbling for your keys, or lose it through an unexpected hole in the pocket.
Periodically copying important files to another drive or another computer is the simplest form of local backup. Of course, you have to remember to do it every day, or every week. In addition, you'll waste a lot of time copying files that haven't changed.
You're definitely better off purchasing a backup solution to run on a schedule, automatically backing up files that have changed since the last backup operation. Some backup tools will compress the backups to save space, encrypt them for security, or both.
Even so, local backup has one major disadvantage – it's local! If a flood or fire wipes out your main computer, it may very well wipe out the backup as well. Sure, you could save your files to removable media and store the backups offsite, but that's a significant effort. Experience suggests that if backup isn't effortless, it won't happen.
Secure online backup
You can get a significant chunk of secure online backup storage for free. There are lots of options out there, including the likes of Mozy and SpiderOak, which offer 2GB of space for free (and much more if you’re willing to pay for it). These services include a small local backup client that defines which files will be backed up. The client periodically checks for new or changed files and uploads them to your secure online storage. For changed files, it only uploads the changes. After the first lengthy upload, your backups happen invisibly, in the background.
These days, many of the big name security suites also offer built-in backup facilities, so you might want to consider that when you’re choosing your next anti-malware solution. Bitdefender and Norton offer 2GB of space with their net security suites, for example, although some are more generous, such as BullGuard which gives users 25GB of online storage with its Premium suite.
You'll want to encrypt your backups, naturally. In some cases you'll get a choice of whether to use the service's encryption key or a key of your own. Choosing your own key is definitely more secure. There's no chance a disgruntled employee at the backup service could access your files, and the service can't hand over your files to law enforcement. On the flip side, if you lose your password there's no way to recover backed up files.
For more on this topic, see: 7 useful online backup services and data storage.
Not enough space!
5GB is a lot of storage space if you're backing up spreadsheets, word processing documents, and the like. It's not much at all if the files you’re backing up are photos, songs, or movies. You can get more space by upgrading from the free backup service, of course, but there may be cheaper alternatives.
Once you've snapped a photo or downloaded a song, it doesn't change. It's not like a spreadsheet or document that you work on over a period of days. Consider focusing your online backup on those files that do change, then back up the photos and such to a DVD periodically. Tossing a disc of your latest photos into the safe deposit box every few months isn't too tough a task.
Having a plan to get all your files backed up is a great thing, but don't let the lack of a plan immobilise you. If you don't have backup in place, go right now to one of the free online backup sites and just get started. Having some of your important files backed up is definitely better than losing them all in the event of a computer tragedy.