The case in favour of online backups

You'll hear all sorts of scary arguments for not putting personal data online. The idea of using a cloud-based service to back up your most valuable personal files may seem like madness to some folks. However, don't let fear of this online bogeyman become yet another obstacle to storing protected backups of your critical files. Backup is a chore, so many people just don’t bother. But if you don't, the question isn't whether you'll lose data, it's just when and how much. Anything that makes you more likely to back up is a good thing.

Online backup is quite simply convenient. It takes a lot of the pain out of the backup process by doing away with media swapping and a lot of the drudgery – you just set it and forget it. Even better, many services keep previous versions of files automatically, so when you accidentally overwrite a file (and who hasn't done that?), you can easily retrieve the original. There's another advantage, and it's a big one: Your files are safe on somebody else's servers. If your home implodes into a Stone Age burial mound you can still recover those backups.

True, you're entrusting your data to a relatively unknown entity. The service could go out of business, an ethically challenged employee could rifle through your information, or attackers could steal that information off the third-party servers. If the company does fail, though, you still have your original information and can make new backups. And the servers are probably better defended against attacks than your own systems, of course.

There’s one simple step to take that can help defend your cloud-stored data, as well, and that’s to encrypt your backed-up files – that way they'll be useless to a thief in the unlikely event of a data breach. Simply choose a provider that encrypts your backup with a personal and private key – something not available to the service. That way employees can't peek at your data and the service can't be forced to hand it over to the men in black. Yes, if you lose the key you're in trouble, but you've only lost access to your backups. Once again, you've still got the original info, and you can make another backup.

Could your data be stolen? Of course, but even with the data breach stories you see hitting the news quite regularly these days, the odds you’ll be personally affected are quite small. And weighed against this, there's little question that you'll eventually lose data to user error, a system crash, a virus, or some disaster in your home like a fire. Given the odds, you're better off backing up to an online service than not being bothered to back up at all. I'm certainly not letting privacy worries stop me from backing up online – I'm just taking steps to keep my information safe.

If you’re interested in exploring online backup, you can get yourself a decent chunk of secure storage for free. Both Mozy and SpiderOak offer 2GB of space for nothing, which should cover your most essential files (and of course if you fork out some cash, you can get much more space). Alternatively, many security suites these days come with online backup facilities built in (and you’d most certainly hope that these were secure)! For example, BullGuard Internet Security 2014 gives you 5GB of space, and the company’s Premium Protection boasts 25GB.