Act now to protect your valuable data

Secure data storage has become a hot topic amid a massive upswell of ransomware attacks. Where should we store data saved on our computers? Where should we host our most-treasured photos, invoices, school reports and music for long-term safe-keeping?

The solution is backup – creating a secure copy of your data.

While protecting individual files is quick and simple, minimising the the risk of data loss will require a bit more effort.

The first step: “Don’t procrastinate in creating a sensible backup strategy – act immediately,” urges Gerald Himmelein from the German-language computer magazine “c’t.”

This isn’t too hard: Start by saving a copy of your “Documents,” “Pictures” and “Music” folders, among others, on an external storage device such as a USB stick, CD or DVD, or in an encrypted online storage service. This creates a duplicate of your personal data.

Many factors can potentially threaten your digital treasures: fire, theft, water damage, hardware failure, transport damage – not to mention a ransomware attack, when a hacker will block access to data until a ransom is paid.

While you can’t avoid all eventualities, there are ways to minimise the risk. First and foremost is to save files not on your computer, but on an external storage device.

A “c’t” rule of thumb for minimising risk is the 3-2-1 rule: three copies, on two data carriers, one based outside the home.

Software can help with the tedious task of making copies of individual folders. Windows and Mac OS offer several in-built tools.

In Apple products, the function is called the “Time Machine.” Windows has a range of options depending on the operating system.

“The Windows 7 function ‘Backup and Secure’ is a classic system for securing data on an external device at regular intervals,” explains Himmelein.

Users can adjust the settings to select which content they want to save on which medium. Of course, the medium, such as a USB stick or an external hard drive, needs to be connected to the computer.

Windows also offers the option of creating an image of your system.

“With the help of recovery points, you can create a kind of snapshot of Windows,” says Tim Griese at Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security.

It allows you to revert the operating system to a previous state, to a point before you installed a specific software, for example, or agreed to an update.

In the case of data loss or virus infection, you can simply recover the entire system without going through the drudging process of retrieving individual files.

Due to the large amount of data involved, however, the full backup takes a long time and requires a lot of disk space.

There is also free or purchasable software programmes that offer more customization of the date-securing process.

However, “it’s generally not necessary to buy a separate backup software for private Windows users,” Griese says.

Christian van de Sand, from a German consumer centre, recommends securing data on two external hard drives. He suggests taking turns saving on each device and storing them in different locations.

This will prevent the loss of data in the case of theft, fire or water damage. And if one hard drive is attacked by a virus while copying files, the other backup is still safe. — dpa