The importance of regular backups

Our personal data is arguably priceless compared to that of, say company data, which can relatively speaking, be easily replaced. Those embarrassing photos that you now look back on and laugh about are irreplaceable, that exact moment can never be replicated – so data loss should be avoided, and when it can’t be avoided, it should be mitigated to the fullest extent. To achieve this, it is necessary to have backups of your personal data. There are many options when it comes to backing up your data, so where should you start? Well that depends on a few factors. Firstly, cost is an obvious starting point. There are ‘free’ services that will offer gigabytes (GB) worth of online storage for no financial cost. I stress the word financial, which leads into the next consideration for your backup solution – privacy.

Privacy is often overlooked by people because most people generally don’t look past the ‘free’ aspect of the services and don’t consider what is happening to their data (or simply don’t care). There are many examples of large companies misusing customer information in the form of selling their data to marketers and other agencies, the prominent contemporary of which being the Cambridge Analytica scandal that Facebook was caught up in. However, it is almost unavoidable at this point to completely ditch all of these services – due to their massive financial backing they have the means to provide much more than their open source counterparts. I am a huge supporter of open source software and take advantage of many open source programs and services, though I am still guilty of using these ‘free’ services – even if it is minimally. If you have an Android phone you are inevitably using Google’s services by default and the alternative of using a custom Android operating system such as LineageOS is more effort than many are willing to deal with.

There are, however, other considerations for backing up your data. One of the mantras of data backups is for them to be ‘regular, and off-site’. Regular, to minimise data loss if anything happens to your device, or if you accidentally delete data. Off-site so that again if anything happens to your device, the data is safe. The off-site aspect is generally more for if there’s a fire – this ensures that the backup doesn’t get destroyed along with the primary data. We will cover backup solutions and services in future posts. Stay tuned!


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Why you should never pay the ransom

Back in 2017, the WannaCry worm took the world by storm causing financial damage and all but halting services such as those used by the NHS in the UK. This malware reportedly infected tens of thousands of computers in approximately 150 countries. The basic premise of the worm was to, a) encrypt the user’s important files (rendering them essentially inaccessible – they may as well have been deleted), and b) spread itself to as many other computers as possible.

After being infected, the user would be presented with a pop-up similar to this image:

WannaCry Screenshot
By Unknown criminal - https://cdn.securelist.com/files/2017/05/wannacry_05.pngDownloaded from :https://securelist.com/blog/incidents/78351/wannacry-ransomware-used-in-widespread-attacks-all-over-the-world/, Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54032765

This type of malware is called ransomware, and as can be seen in the image, a timer is also displayed, threatening that the files will be “lost” if the timer reaches zero. Do. Not. Ever. Pay. Why not, you ask? Because the most likely scenario is that you pay the ransom and you never see your files again. Which is what likely happened to the majority of people. The type of people who are willing to extort people of money, logically are also not likely to be honourable. But I’ll lose all my data? Okay, well if you pay the ransom, then you will lose all your data and your wallet will be substantially lighter. What are my options? Read on my friend…

Because this particular attack is going on two years old now then you have either likely lost all your data, lost all your data and given the crooks money, or you have only lost some of your data and not given them any money. How? By having backups! If you don’t have any backups, especially in this day and age you are doing yourself a disservice.


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What is data loss and why should you care?

Data loss is inevitable – whether it is from user error, malware or caused by a hardware failure. The most common cause of data loss would have to be users deleting files by accident, however, there are other causes leading to data loss that are less known. Some of these causes of data loss are software-related, some are due to hardware problems. A small caveat, data loss does not necessarily mean that the data is “gone” or deleted, it could simply be that the data is rendered inaccessible to the user or owner of the data.

Following this vein, certain malware has the potential may cause data loss by removing a user’s access to their data through encryption. The most devastating example of this in recent history is the WannaCry worm back in 2017, which utilised exploits reportedly created by the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US. This widespread worm infected computers globally, with the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom (UK) being hardest hit due to their computers still running older versions of Microsoft Windows. If you ever find yourself in the position where your data is being held “ransom”, the best advice is to not pay the ransom (which can be substantial, and you’re not guaranteed to get your data back) and instead opt to restore your computer from an earlier backup. Don’t have a backup or backup plan? Read our post, The importance of regular backups.

Hardware can and will fail, the probability of hardware failures begin to quickly approach 1 the more time has passed – this means that the longer you use the same hardware, the more likely it is to fail. A great article posted on Backblaze goes into detail about hard drive failure rates. It is definitely prudent to replace your hard drives on a regular basis, maybe every 2 or 3 years – but that depends on a lot of factors, including but not limited to the environment in which they’re stored, as well as their workload. Sometimes you may run into some bad luck and have multiple hard drives fail at the same time due to a bad batch. I remember years ago having 2 or 3 Western Digital drives fail in a very short amount of time due to this – not disparaging Western Digital as I still use their drives to this day, but there was a bad batch at that time, which was unfortunate. For this reason it is a good idea to buy hard drives at different times so they are not part of the same batch, however, this is not always time or cost-efficient for consumers or businesses alike. Similarly, you should also employ redundancy as part of your backup solutions. If that term means nothing to you, please see our post, What is redundancy, and how can it save your (virtual) life?.


As always reader participation is not just welcomed, but encouraged! If you have any suggestions, corrections or anything in between, feel free to leave a comment. Want a good laugh? Check out our blog created entirely by artificial intelligence (AI)

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