Yes it’s time to back your stuff up again

It is absolutely the least exciting part of your digital life. And, honestly, it’s something that won’t make Solid Signal any money. Still, I tend to nag you all about it every six months or so. Why? It’s just that important. And like grounding and wiring inspection, it’s something you’re probably not doing.

Why back up your files?

Today, it seems like backups are less important than ever. In the last five years, both business and personal users have moved away from “local” solutions like Microsoft Outlook or just having a big hard drive. Today you can store pretty much all your documents in the cloud. That should make it easier to keep all your files safe. Most of that cloud storage is managed by companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google. These are the largest tech companies in the world and they have thousands of professionals working to make sure your data is safe.

The world of data can be pretty scary

Another big change in the last five years has been the rise of ransomware. That’s probably not a term you even heard five years ago. Today I probably don’t even have to define it for you. Some of the biggest companies have been hit by attacks. Cities and towns aren’t safe either. And it’s just a matter of time before ransomware hits the big data centers.

Remember, we think of the internet as a big “cloud.” But, as the popular meme goes, there is no cloud. It’s just someone else’s computer. When you’re storing all your files online, they’re on a computer (or more than one) in a data center somewhere. That data center is safe, probably safer than your devices at home. But it’s not impenetrable.

Backing it up old-school

More than ever, I recommend that people buy a physical hard drive and make a backup of all their files. The world has moved past the time of CD-ROMs, but the idea is the same. Buy something that you can actually put on a shelf. If you have the funds, a solid state drive is the best choice. It’s a hard drive that has no moving parts, so it’s very reliable over time. If that’s out of your budget, look for flash drives (you may call them thumb drives.) I’m sure you remember these from a decade ago but you probably haven’t bought one in “forever.” Today they come in really large capacities, probably enough to back up your documents and photos. Again the idea here is that you want something durable, something that will last for years. If you need a budget solution, portable hard drives are at their lowest price ever and you can find massive ones for well under $100.

Get your cloud stuff

If you use Microsoft OneDrive or Apple’s iCloud Drive, you can generally access these directly from your computer. So backups of whatever’s there is easy. Just drag stuff onto your hard drive or flash drive.

With Google Drive and other forms of storage, this can be a little harder. There are apps that let you download your entire drive at once but sometimes that makes it hard to find what you’re looking for. Depending on how you’ve organized things, it may make sense to download one folder at a time.

There are also apps that let you download all of your emails at once. Backup of emails is a little harder which is why I tend to tell people not to use email as a file cabinet. If there’s a message or an attachment you want to keep, download it. Don’t just keep it in an email because over the years it will get increasingly hard to find. The same is true with texts. You should never count on texts as a filing system.

Make two copies and…

I always recommend that people make two backups every six months. One of them should go offsite to a safe deposit box or the home of a trusted friend. That way you’re covered if there’s some sort of disaster at home. We never want to think that sort of thing is going to happen, but it does.

Why should you bother doing this? Because there will come a time when you’re locked out of your computer. It’s going to happen. Whether it’s ransomware, hardware failure, or just forgetting a password, there will be a time you could lose all your treasured memories. Just don’t let it happen.

If you back up stuff on a regular hard drive with no encryption, there’s a little bit of risk. You’re deliberately creating an archive that anyone can access. That’s why it’s important that you treat it safely. Keep it locked up or secure in some way. But I think you should resist the urge to encrypt or password protect your data. You should make sure that when you need to access it, it’s accessible, period.

Do it now

Back up your home stuff. Back up your kids’ schoolwork. All of it.Back up all your pictures. Back up your medical records (especially your vaccination card if you have one.) Do it. Back it up now, because that way you’ll be safe later.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.