Back It Up? Here Are NINE Good Reasons (and ANSWERS to YOUR backup questions)

Category: Backup

That's a really good question... why should you bother to make backups? It's especially understandable if you've never experienced any sort of data loss (yet). But I've got a list of NINE reasons, some of which may surprise you. Read on for that list, and ANSWERS to some of the best questions I've received about backups...

Do I Really Need to Back Up My Files?

I wrote the first edition of my ebook Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS in 2010 because I'm passionate about making sure that important files -- programs, documents, emails, contacts, music, photos, and financial records -- are NEVER lost due to a data disaster.

My goal was (and is) to teach people how to make backups easily, inexpensively, and automatically. The all-new 7th Edition of Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS will be released in just a few days!

And I'm excited because I believe that my plain English explanations and instructions will guide both advanced users and even the most non-technical readers to success with backups, and trigger a "Wow, that was easier than I thought!" response when they're done. (A few years ago, one of my readers called me a "Translator For the Technology Impaired" -- maybe I should get that on a t-shirt!)

Yes, Backup Now

Over the past twelve years, I've received some really great questions about backups from AskBob readers. I'm going to answer some of those questions here, but first, let's get into my list of reasons why you need to make backups.

NINE Good Reasons for Backups

1) Unlike Diamonds, Hard Drives Are Not Forever. -- Studies on hard drive life expectancy show that 22% of hard drives will fail in the first four years, due to factory defects, random failures, and parts that wear out. Failures due to factory defects tend to happen in the first 18 months of service. Yikes. How old is your hard drive, and how lucky do you feel?

2) Viruses, Power Surges, And Natural Disasters Happen. -- Ransomware is spreading like wildfire online. It will lock all your files, and permanently delete them if you don't pay a hefty ransom within a few days. Power surges can scramble data or zap files. Fires, floods and F5 tornados can tear the stuffing right out of your shiny electronic gadgets.

3) Stuff Gets Lost Or Stolen. -- Even the most reliable hardware and top-notch virus protection won't help if your laptop, tablet or smartphone falls into unfriendly hands. Only a backup will save your bacon.

4) Mobile Gadgets Break Or Get Wet. -- Have you ever dropped your mobile phone in a dirty slush puddle, taken it for a swim in the ocean, or treated it to a wash/spin/dry joyride? I have. Have you ever dropped your laptop, watched it fall in slow motion, hoping that it will survive the fall? Been there, too.

5) Passwords Get Lost. -- You followed the advice of the experts to use unique, secure passwords for your computer and your online accounts. But then you forgot... was it "2Much-L0ve4U" or "2Much-4U-2Love"? Dang it!

Crypto virus

6) Accounts Are Compromised Or Frozen. -- Your password was "PASSWORD" and you're surprised you got hacked? Sometimes for no discernable reason, people get locked out of their Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook or other online accounts. Was it a software glitch, a denial of service attack, or did a hacker gain access to your account? You may never know. And without a backup, you may never again see your saved emails, contacts or files. (Yes, you CAN back up your passwords and online accounts.)

7) Data Breaches Are Becoming Commonplace. -- Every week, it seems there's another high-profile data breach, resulting in millions of usernames, passwords and other critical data becoming public. Equifax, Yahoo, Target, Chase Bank, American Express, Home Depot, Apple, Sony... who's next, and how will it affect you?

8) Human Error. -- None of us are immune to the occasional finger fumble, brain freeze, or senior moment. Files or folders may be accidentally deleted, and sometimes you don't notice until it's too late.

9) Incorrrect Assumptions. -- I've learned that some people just assume that their computer is automatically making backups. If you didn't do something to make it happen, it's not happening. And many users who do have some sort of backup routine are not backing up the right files, or all the ones that need protection. (And do you know what ELSE you should be backing up, in addition to your hard drive? I have a list.)

Your Backup Questions Answered

I've received literally thousands of questions about backups from AskBob readers. I can't answer all of them here, but I'll highlight some of the most
interesting and common ones below:

Q: "I only back up documents and photos. I feel that the operating system and other program software can be reloaded if necessary and settings can be reset. What is wrong with this logic?"

A: Nothing, if you're geeky and have all the time in the world. But if your hard drive fails, you'll need to re-install the operating system, apply any needed security patches, reconfigure any customizations or settings, then install all your programs. Locating the installation media and license keys can be a big hassle. Only then can you restore your data files from backup. That process can take many hours, and often requires a bit of technical know-how.

Q: "How can I know if my backup program is working properly?"

A: Most backup programs have a "verify" option, which tests the integrity of the backup image immediately after it is created. You can also test your backup by browsing through the backup image file, and examining a selection of files.

Q: "What exactly is 'The Cloud' and how safe is it?"

A: Cloud storage or cloud backup refers to files that are stored on an Internet website (sometimes called a server) instead of your computer's hard drive or other local storage. The term "cloud" is used to create the impression of a giant hard drive in the sky, which provides convenient access to files that reside on the Internet. Examples of cloud storage providers are Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox.

I maintain that data stored in the cloud is MUCH safer than files stored on a local hard drive. Do you use 256-bit encryption for your sensitive files at home? Do you have a staff of highly-trained professionals constantly monitoring your computer for break-in attempts? How about strong physical security that includes gated perimeter access, 24x7 on-site security guards, and security cameras? Do you have a fire detection and suppression system, backup power, and a disaster recovery plan in the event of hurricane, flood or earthquake? You can bet your cloud storage provider has all that and more in place to safeguard your data. It's probably much easier for the NSA to hack into your home computer than to get into any one of these cloud servers. Some people point to all the high-profile breaches reported in the news, but it's important to note that none of those compromised companies were cloud service providers, who focus on data security above all else.

Q: "What is the difference between a full system backup and a file backup? What is the difference between what *should* be backed up and what *must* be backed up?"

A: In a nutshell, a full system backup (or image backup) includes EVERYTHING on your hard drive -- the operating system, program files, and your personal files. A file backup usually refers to a backup that only includes personal files such as documents, spreadsheets, music, photos, etc. That's better than no backup at all, but my recommendation is to make regular image backups, followed up with a series of "incremental backups" that catch any changes since the full image backup.

Q: "If I get hit with ransomware or other malware, will that also affect the backups on my external hard drive, thus making recovery impossible?"

A: Yes, that can happen. Ransomware can lock you out of BOTH your hard drive and any attached devices, including your backup drive. That's why I recommend backing up your backup. One way is to have two external drives, which you swap out weekly or monthly. That's unfortunately a manual process, but I discuss other options in my ebook, to protect your backups from ransomware and accidental deletion.

I Object!

I've heard lots of reasons for not doing backups. The most common one is "I'll do nothing and HOPE for the best." But there's a problem with that. (Actually 9 problems, see above.) HOPE is the strategy of the fearful, the uninformed, and the procrastinator. In this case, "doing nothing" is almost certain to lead to disaster. BUT... if you knew you could protect ALL your information on ALL your devices with little or no expense, and make it happen automatically, wouldn't that be great? Wouldn't it be awesome to have CONFIDENCE instead of HOPE?

Other people say "Backups are too complicated or time consuming." That might have been true 15 or 20 years ago. My first backup system used a tape drive that took forever to run, was prone to error, and was hard to set up. After that, I tried making backups on diskettes, CDs and DVDs. That was a hassle, and I never remembered to do it as often as I should have. But today we have "plug and play" devices that will start making automatic backups as soon as you plug them into your computer. Getting started with an online backup service is almost as easy, and both options can be configured to run at night, or when your computer is idle.

Another one I hear often is "Backups are too expensive." As I mentioned earlier, there are some really good free backup software options, and some clever ways to access gobs of free online storage. Don't trust your data in the cloud? A 1-terabyte external hard drive costs less than $50 now. Still too expensive? How about a 128GB USB flash drive for about $20?

Let's Talk About This...

I want to hear from you about backups! If you're already doing regular backups, strut your stuff. Post a comment below and tell me about your personal backup strategy. Are you backing up everything, including social media, cloud storage, passwords, device drivers, and mobile data?

If you're not, or you have questions about backups, you'll find practical help and answers in my ebook Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS (7th Edition) which will be released in just a few days! Keep an eye on your inbox for further news.

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Most recent comments on "Back It Up? Here Are NINE Good Reasons (and ANSWERS to YOUR backup questions)"

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
09 Mar 2022

I can promise you that one day you will start backing up your data, and system configuration.

You will start doing it after you have lost your hard disk, and have no recent backup....

Posted by:

Don Fedak
09 Mar 2022

You mention Hard Drive Backups; I assume the same applies to Solid State Drives.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Good point to clarify! When I mention "hard drives" it includes SSDs as well. Whatever you use for your permanent disk storage is the issue.

Posted by:

09 Mar 2022

I have been using Macrium Software for a while now. It is cheep and easy to use. I feel I am ready should something bad should Happen.

Posted by:

Larry Crowell
09 Mar 2022

10) Microsoft updates which don't work.

Posted by:

09 Mar 2022

For quite a number of years now I've used the Macrium backup system for my computer (both desktop and laptop). That's a great program and I've never had any problems with it. I do a daily incremental backup and then once weekly a full system backup. I've found it handy several times recently (once when a Microsoft update really messed up my computer, and then once when I tried out Windows11 and really didn't like it!) I just go back a week to my most recent full backup and everything's fixed pefectly.

Posted by:

Ron C. Plute
09 Mar 2022

If you have a commercial web site it's a good idea to keep backups of your entire domain.

My hosting company had a server glitch and some of my web pages were accidentally erased.

When I accessed the server's automatic backups I discovered my hosting company's backup system hadn't been working for several weeks and tech support hadn't noticed it!

Luckily I made my own backups so no harm was done.

Posted by:

09 Mar 2022

I regularly make backups. I keep several and each time I make a new one I delete the oldest one.

Macrium Reflect Free asks if I want to "save backup and schedules as an XML Backup Definition File". I deselect this. I always make a full backup and have a set schedule in my calendar that I follow since I use a laptop that doesn't regularly have an external drive attached.

What is the purpose of this XML Backup Definition File? I think my approach works for me but I always question if there is a need for the XML file with the approach I take.

Posted by:

Steve Bohne
09 Mar 2022

Does Macrium do a complete backup of EVERYTHING or just data? I want to be able to have my system files and programs on a drive so if I lose my C/ drive I can just boot and run from a backup drive.

Posted by:

09 Mar 2022

Steve, If you choose the option to make an image for restoring the hard drive it will make an image of the entire drive. However, you would need to replace your hard drive if it failed and then you would have to restore the image to that new hard drive. I believe there are methods to browse the files on that image but it will not run as a boot drive until it is restored to a working hard drive, i.e. C:/ drive.

Posted by:

09 Mar 2022

I back up daily to the cloud via IDrive and to a external HD given to me when I first started using IDrive. Also do an image BU weekly on another IDrive HD. Furthermore, I have Macrium Reflect and do incremental backups daily and differential backups 3 times a week and a full image backup once a week. All of this upon Bob's recommendations. However, if I were or rather when I have a failure, I have no earthly idea of how to restore anything. Just not a geek. Do not understand the 500 page Macrium manual.

Posted by:

10 Mar 2022

I do a complete backup of my computer 4x a year to an external SS drive that is only connected at time of backup. My computer is personal use only and my photos are my main concern.

Posted by:

Ralph C
10 Mar 2022

I m new to the Mac world and Time Machine is the backup process. When it runs, does it do a full image back up? Can you look into the backup and extract 1 or more individual files? I love my Mac, but so much to learn. And Bob, will you new ebook include backing up Mac computers?

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
10 Mar 2022

I use Macrium Reflect Free to back up my desktop PC and my two laptops. I also sync my desktop PC with Microsoft OneDrive, so my files are backed up off premises and are accessible from my laptop PCs. On the first day of each month, I keep my laptop PCs plugged in and turned on so Macrium Reflect can generate a full system image for each one and store it to a USB connected external drive. I have one drive for each device.

I will discuss my Macrium Reflect back up strategy regarding my desktop PC in greater depth here because it contains all my important files. On the first day of each month, prior to the start of the day, I have Macrium Reflect scheduled to generate a full system image of all partitions on my desktop PC, excluding the one on which I store my images. Each day, prior to the start of the day, I have it scheduled to generate a differential image of the same partitions. A differential image records all changes since the most recent full image was created.

My original strategy was to keep one full system image, and one differential image in the event I do something really careless or stupid or I suffer unanticipated results from one of my many PC experiments. I have recently revised my strategy to anticipate the possibility that my PC becomes infected with some malware. I now keep two monthly full system images, and thirty daily differential images. I have increased the number of images I retain so I can restore my desktop PC to the state it was in at the start of day for any of the past thirty days. It is my hope that if my desktop contracts some malware, I will discover it within thirty days of the initial incursion.

The drive on which I store my backups is a two terabyte SSHD drive. I use a one terabyte partition on that drive for my back up images and I can increase its size if needed in the future because the other partition on that drive is for occasional/temporary file storage use as a convenience because I dual-boot Windows with KDE Neon GNU/Linux. Incidentally, I can also access my files on OneDrive from my Neon installation because I built and installed a OneDrive client from source on it.

A note to Will, the 'XML Backup Definition File' you are asking about is a configuration file for Macrium Reflect to schedule and automate your backup strategy. Any time you select 'Image selected disks on this computer', Macrium will offer to save your configuration and schedule to a definition file so it can do this for you automatically, saving you the time and effort of remembering to do it manually. If your laptop is not turned on, or the external drive is not connected, Macrium will perform a backup as soon after the scheduled time as soon as the laptop is turned on, and the external drive is connected. I don't have this issue here with my laptops because they are both always plugged in with my external drive connected since they both have the option to keep the battery charged to 60 - 80 percent, thus not reducing the battery's life span.

I hope this helps someone,


Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
10 Mar 2022

Regarding item 2 in Bob's article, if your PC meets Windows 11's hardware requirements and use Microsoft Defender as your real time anti malware suit (you may need to log in using a Microsoft account too, not sure on that), you can turn on Ransomware protection (aka CFA - Controlled Folder Access) in the Microsoft Defender dashboard. Ransomware protection will protect your PC from any form of file-based malware, not just Ransomware, so I consider it a very good idea, and I have enabled it here. My recommendation comes with one caveat. Controlled folder access may prevent some applications from accessing your files/folders to perform reads/writes. To enable Controlled folder access, open the Microsoft Defender dashboard, select Virus and threat protection even though it says there is no action needed, then at the bottom of the window, under Ransomware protection, select 'Manage ransomware protection'. In the next screen, under Controlled folder access, click the horizontal button labeled 'off' to turn the feature on, at which point it will be labeled 'on'. After enabling CFA, if you see a pop-up dialog informing you that access was blocked, you have the opportunity to allow access for that application, assuming you know and trust the app. I had to allow access for LibreOffice and a few other applications I use here that do not come from Microsoft. If you install a new application after enabling controlled folder access, you may have to allow it access the first time you use it.

To allow access, open the Microsoft Defender dashboard, select 'Virus and threat protection', 'manage ransomware protection', then 'Block history' to open the Protection history screen. Over time, the list of blocked events will grow longer with each blocked access. The most recent event will be the entry at the top of the list. Click on an event to expand it. In the expanded entry, under 'Your administrator has blocked this action', on the line labeled 'App or process blocked:' you will see the name of the app or process that was blocked. If you do not recognize the name, you can copy it to the Windows clipboard (the name only, not the entire line), then search for it on the Internet in your web browser. Once you know what the app or process is, if it is something you know you can trust (an app or service you have installed or enabled, or in a few rare cases, a Windows service), you can enable access by clicking the 'Actions' button at the bottom-right of the dialog, then click 'Allow on device'. I had to do this for an app named 'wuauclt.exe'. It turned out to be associated with Windows Update, and it happened just after I upgraded to Windows 11 from 10, so I allowed access. Since these notifications are alerting you to the fact that a file or folder access was blocked, if an app or process you did not install (and cannot learn anything about on the Internet) was blocked, you may have just avoided a malware infection. in such a case, I suggest you run a full scan of your PC just to be safe.

Even though it's a bit of a bother at first, or at any time you install new software, this feature is well worth the effort. If you use your personal PC, and you have administrative privileges on it, to interact with your employer's network this feature may very well be a must have, as it will increase the security of your PC, and your access to your company's Network. If you use a company owned PC to interact with the companies Network (especially over the Internet, or from home), and it meets the Windows 11 hardware requirements, suggest enabling this feature to the IT department. It may save them from malware headaches in the future. This feature is more of a bother shortly after you enable it, but once you get it configured to allow access to all the applications you use on your PC, unless you install a new application, you will not be bothered by it unless it blocks something you want it to.


Posted by:

Dana Lynch
10 Mar 2022

I do a system restore on pc and full system backup on 2 external hard drives and 1 USB flash drive. I also use AOMEI Backupper Pro and backup the pc disk on all three external drives and Bitlocker all of them. I also turn off the external drives and just use the flash drive when using the pc to protect. It has come in handy when Window or some other update crashes pc or causes problem or if one of the external drives fails.

Posted by:

11 Mar 2022

I appreciate the two long replies but I'm finding them very difficult to actually read because of the long lines of print. The length of a line should be limited to what the eye can take in without shifting its focus. This is the besetting sin of online content.

Normally, the shortness of the comments means the line length is not a problem. All I can suggest for long comments is to break them up into short paragraphs. And to suggest that you might consider shorter line length if you ever to do a site makeover.

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