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How to Protect Your Digital Files (Part 1)

As more and more of our lives are stored on computers, it's easy to rely on technology and forget that a small glitch can lead to catastrophe. Get-It-Done Guy has tips on keeping your work safe.
By
Stever Robbins,
Episode #540
Computer backup

When I was at MIT, a friend of mine was finishing his thesis after seven long years of work. It was going great! The artificial super-intelligence he had painstakingly built was just starting to print out the plans for a faster-than-light rocket ship … when his hard drive crashed. He did everything he could to try to save it. He even took it to the disk drive specialists who tried to reconstruct it bit-by-bit, using very tiny tweezers. Their efforts were to no avail. He lost everything. Seven years of work, lost.

And that, my friends, is why we don’t have faster-than-light travel today.

But we would, if only he had backed up his data. Don’t be him.

I know what you're thinking: "Stever, did you fall into a time warp? No one loses data anymore. That's a thing of the past!"

Alas, it isn't. We’re so used to computers being reliable that we often don’t plan for when they fail. Things happen. Hard drives fail. Ransomware sneaks into your system and holds your files hostage. Backing up your data simply means making a copy of it somewhere for safe-keeping. 

Make Local Backups

A local backup is a copy of your data that you keep somewhere nearby. Once upon a time, you could make a DVD or a CD with all your data as a backup. Since those are read-only, they made good backups. Evil ransomware couldn’t harm a backup once you made it. If you still have a DVD or CD drive, you might want to consider using one to make read-only backups of your data. The computer industry is migrating away from optical drives, though, so the days of the optical backup are numbered.

USB Hard Drives, however, are very affordable and they get relentlessly cheaper. So now, to back up my 2 Tb hard drive, I simply use a 4Tb USB drive. That drive is big enough to keep my most recent backup and the backup before that.

Use SuperDuper! 

My computer is a Mac, and I use a very simple backup program called SuperDuper! from Shirt Pocket software. It copies my hard drive to my backup drive every night, making the backup drive bootable. If my hard drive gets trashed, I can plug in my backup drive and quickly be up and running. If I need an old version of a file, I just copy it directly from the backup drive. SuperDuper’s “smart copy” feature skips files that haven’t changed, so it doesn’t waste time copying files that don’t need to be copied.

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