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The importance of backing up

What does backing up something mean?

Backing up is the act of making a copy or copies of a file. These files are stored somewhere other than where the originals are located. You may only need to back up a few files, or it might be a much bigger effort. Requirements may differ greatly depending on if you’re an individual or a business.

The idea is that if the original file is damaged, breaks, is stolen, or suffers any other problem, then the backups survive the issue.

In an age of ransomware attacks, it’s crucial to back up data and essential systems. Ransomware authors have been attacking all sorts of business verticals for years and anything from infrastructure to medical systems can be targets. There are many tales of law enforcement and hospitals locked out of mission critical files and systems, leading to potentially life threatening delays and scheduled operation setbacks.

What does backing up a device mean?

Backing up a device can mean a few things and depending on the device, you may have to be very specific when you map out this process. Sometimes, this can just mean backing up certain mobile settings and functions, or options and data settings for a PC.

It can also mean simply copying everything from a particular piece of equipment, as opposed to a few files or folders. This is very common for all forms of mobile devices and laptops. Backing up the entirety of a desktop PC is often a bit more involved due to the sheer number of files. With smartphones, the primary concern is often the vast collection of precious photographs they contain.

Where do we put our backups?

One of the most important backup stumbling blocks is figuring out where to place the files being copied. This can be done locally, on an external hard drive or local server on your network. The files can also be saved in the cloud. This can cause a few headaches depending on:

  • The security practices of the cloud storage system you’re using and
  • Whether you encrypt the files and folders before you upload them.

If the files are work related, you should be using the business approved storage / backup solution. Placing files in a randomly selected service of your choice can have disastrous consequences if sensitive files are hacked or leaked.

Do people backup their backups?

They do! It’s not unheard of to have a PC fail with important files on it, and discover there’s a problem with the backup too. This is why you have backups of backups. It’s also important to have sensible backups.

If an organisation simply copies hundreds of thousands of files into a big folder and thinks “job done”? That’s going to be a problem. If they suffer a ransomware attack 6 months later, it probably won’t end well: The files will be six months out of date and you’ll lose six months of work, or find yourself paying an exorbitant ransom. System files for business operations may have been replaced by new technology and the old files are no longer relevant.

If the files are still relevant but not organised in a way which makes it clear what to do with them, that’s also bad, and you’re back to square one. Did you back everything up in a logical, regular fashion but then leave the storage device next to the main systems which are all covered in flood water? That’s not going to help very much, either.

The 3-2-1 backup strategy

The best starting point for most businesses is the 3-2-1 backup strategy, in which you keep:

  1. Three copies of your data, in total.
  2. Two copies of your data on-site, but on different devices.
  3. One remote copy, in case your premises become damaged.

The local copies of your data give you easy and immediate, redundant access to your data when you need it. The remote copy, which will be harder to access, is your insurance policy against fire, flood, and other disasters. To act as a fallback if you are attacked with ransomware, the off-site copy of your data should be inaccessible to an attacker on your network with administrator rights.

Additional backup resources

You may wish to make a note in your diary now for World Backup Day which comes around every March. It’s a great reminder to set those backup plans in motion, and also do some more general file spring-cleaning while you’re at it. Whatever your strategy, the most important thing is to start backing up now. Not next week, most definitely not next month and almost certainly not “when I get around to it”.

There’s a lot of people out there who will sadly only realise the value of backups when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Getting backups right

Backups are simple in theory, but they often let you down when you need them most. On a recent Malwarebytes Lock and Code podcast, host David Ruiz spoke to Matt Crape, a technical account manager for VMware and backups expert, about why backups are so hard to get right, and what the most basic missteps are when companies roll out a backup plan.