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How to Protect Your Digital Files (Part 2)

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 more tips on keeping your work safe (Hint: It involves regular backups).

By
Stever Robbins,
Episode #541
Woman backing up computer files.

This is Stever Robbins. Welcome to the Get-it-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More

In Part 1 of this series on digital files you heard about my friend who lost seven years’ worth of MIT thesis work because they didn’t have good backups of their desktop machine. 

Having on-site backups is one way to recover when you have a fight with your thesis advisor, drag your thesis to the trash, and click Empty Trash thinking “That’ll show you, Stupid Advisor!!” Er, yeah. Deleting your thesis to get back at your advisor? N-i-i-i-ice.

But on-site backups still suffer from a problem. When a dimensional portal opens up by your computer and sucks your processor and backup drives into the Enchanted Forest, you lose everything. 

That’s why you need to open your own dimensional portal and store your backups there, too. Fortunately, we have such a portal. It’s called the Cloud. Cloud backup programs store your backups in off-site servers, where you can get to them even if your physical computer and disk drives become incapacitated.

But beware!

Although cloud backup providers paint a rosy picture of milk and honey when describing their services, they are far from perfect. Here are a few things to watch out for when storing in the cloud:

You Can’t Store it All

Storing terabytes of data in the cloud isn’t feasible. Unlike physical hard drives, data is slow to upload to the cloud (you try sending photos to an enchanted forest with all those weeds!). Plus many cloud backup services charge based on how much you store. 

For the cloud storage, decide explicitly what you’ll back up. You’ll almost certainly back up you Documents folder, and if you’re on a Mac, your ~/Library/Preferences/ folder as well.

Reliability Is Tricky 

You owe it to yourself (and your future survival) to understand the truth about the reliability of cloud resources. When you store backups at home, you’re vulnerable to dimensional portals. When you store backups in the cloud, you’re vulnerable to your provider’s data center having a dimensional portal. You’re vulnerable to a power loss between you and your provider. You’re vulnerable to a communications loss between you and your provider. 

And what if your data is hacked or encrypted and held for ransom? My local hospital recently lost all their medical records to a ransomware attack. I’m not supposed to know about it, but an insider friend of mine told me.

Also, if there is an irregularity with your account, the cloud service provider could simply remove your access to your backups. I had this happen once, when a video file I was editing was mistakenly flagged as a pirated mainstream video. While I was flattered they thought me talking into a webcam was the equivalent of Patrick Stewart playing Professor X, it didn’t make up for the week it took to regain access to my files.

This means you should keep those local backup drives to complement your cloud storage!

Security Is Nonexistent in the Cloud

Cloud storage reliability can be bad, but their security is laughable. Cloud providers assure you that your data is secure and private and all that stuff. They have policies. And those policies don’t penalize the company in any way whatsoever if it turns out that your data isn’t secure and private, after all. So let’s be blunt: They’re not worth the paper they’re written on.

So what if your data is stolen from the cloud by Evil Doers? They could grab your bank statements, your private correspondence, and even your secret family recipe for avocado marmalade. And then, where would you be? There’s nothing more demoralizing than having a group of malicious Russian hackers become billionaires by marketing a line of avocado marmalade that you know really belongs to you. (Canadian hackers, on the other hand, aren’t a worry. They would graciously send you your share of the profits without even being asked.) 

Your cloud backups may also be visible to U.S. intelligence agencies and law enforcement. Some providers will hand it over without a warrant. Others only hand it over with a warrant. And still other providers have been infiltrated by intelligence agencies and don’t even know that they’re handing over your data. Whichever way you slice it, no one will ever tell you that you’ve been breached.

So how to make sure your data is safe in the cloud?..

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