Great Savings 37 – Protect Your Data


As our society becomes more and more digitized, the risk of losing the data that defines who we are presents a serious challenge not just from the standpoint of lost memories or keepsakes, but especially when it comes to securing important personal information or safeguarding finances. Think about it: What if the worst happened and your phone or laptop was stolen or you lost your PC in a fire? Would you be at risk for identity theft? Would you have backup data available you could restore to a new device? And even if you keep backups of certain critical data in a safe place, what about your photos, your music, your video collection, or that book manuscript you’ve been working on for the last 10 years?


A Mozy online back up panel.

Mozy is just one of several companies offering online back up services. This panel comes up to show whether the backup was successful.

Nowadays, most people are familiar with the idea of backing up or even storing their data remotely. For example, you may know of Apple’s iCloud, which allows users to conveniently store and access data or automatically keep it synced among Macs and devices running Apple’s iOS. Yet even before Apple wowed its users with this tool, a host of companies were already competing in the field. Names like Mozy, Crashplan, Carbonite, I-Drive, SOS Online Backup, McAfee, Norton, SpiderOak are just a few of the better known. The idea behind these companies is simple: Protect, store, and allow users better access to their data.


As the world of computing gets more and more complex, companies are gearing up to help us do a better job of getting and staying organized. Anyone with more than one PC, laptop, phone, pad or otherwise already understands the difficulty in keeping devices synced manually. By storing and accessing data in “the cloud” which is really saying by storing or accessing data on a secure offsite server it’s easier to transfer files from one device to another or keep them in sync and up to date.


The trouble is that though some companies offer free trial periods to their backup plans, or allow limited data backup for free, these options aren’t enough. Limits on the amount of data you can backup means losing certain files if you run into problems. Also, shelling out a monthly or annual fee to pay for a subscription to a plan isn’t always an option—especially if you’re already struggling with monthly bills and debt. This presents a huge problem if the goal is to keep data secure.



What can you do to safeguard digital data?


If you can afford it, definitely consider backing up your most important files online. For a comparison of some of the prices and features many of the services offer, see this post from TopTenReviews or this one from PCMagazine.


If online data backup is just too expensive or you’re uncomfortable storing any data offsite, then it can pay big time to build a bullet proof in-house backup plan. How?


External hard drives are a veritable bargain.

External hard drives with incredible capacity are getting smaller and smaller. This drive holds a terabyte of data and is about the size of smart phone.

Start by investing in a reliable external hard disk drive. Dozens of companies make these devices. For example, you can get 1 Terabyte Disk Drive at Amazon for about $100. That’s enough disk space to store 1000s of photos, songs, movies, documents and more. Better yet, most drives come pre-loaded with software and can be set up to run as often as required automatically.


To find the best deal for an external drive, check out any company who sells computer accessories on a regular basis. If shopping locally, check prices at Best Buy, Costco, Radio Shack, Wal-Mart, Target or OfficeMax. If you’re uncertain how to choose a drive, go to a website like which allows user reviews and read the comments. You’ll often find a wealth of useful information.


We can’t leave this topic without offering two warnings about external hard disk drives: (1) At some point even your backup drive may suffer a crash. Thus, (and as silly as it might sound) it can’t hurt to backup the backup drive. This is even more critical if your external drive is the only place you typically store data. (2) If you use password protection on your hard drive (which we discus below) write down the password and store it in a safe place. Remember: If you forget your password and don’t have a way to retrieve it, you won’t be able to get in and access the files on the drive. That can be as bad as any crash.


If the price of an external drive seems too expensive then you’ll need to rely on flash drives, SD cards, DVD’s or CD’s. Sometimes you can find these at garage sales for pennies on the dollar in perfect working order. Otherwise, watch for sales or coupons to get the best prices.


Any storage device or storage media is at risk if it’s not password protected. Be sure you set passwords on all the devices that accept them. And when that’s not an option (for example, you can’t set a password on a CD) then keep your device or media under lock and key.


The Best Way To Organize Data


USB flash drives can fill the gap when it comes to backing up important data.

USB flash drives like this one are great if you only need to store a few gigabytes of data. That’s a lot of data if you’re talking written documents, but not so much if the purpose is to store pictures or video.

Beyond a secure device or media to store data, you’ll want to develop a simple system to organize it so it’s easy to identify which files you need to copy. That prevents a ton of unnecessary duplication.


For example, instead of organizing files by subject, create a new folder each month, and put any file you create or alter into that folder. You can still have other folders inside the monthly folder to organize the data if needed. In this way, it’s much easier to keep track of everything that’s changed and everything that hasn’t over the course of the month. That makes backing up a cinch in that you only have to copy the current month’s folder. Incidentally, if you constantly create or alter files this system works equally well on a weekly basis to keep the number of files requiring backup to a minimum. No matter how you set it up, you’ll want to make a final backup copy at the end of each and every period (i.e. month or week) and archive it in a secure location.


For your system to function as its designed, it’s critical to backup your current monthly (or weekly) folder every day or two. Remember: Anything you fail to copy may be unrecoverable if you run into serious problems so you never want to wait too long between backups.


What about a special or large project? By all means allow a large or special project to reside in a separate folder, but be sure to “archive” older data that you don’t use from that folder. In other words, move the old data to a separate folder and label it accordingly, so you don’t need to keep recopying it. Also, remember to periodically backup any email data files you store on your computer, as they will not be located in your monthly folders.


Another Great Savings Tip from Backups


Hopefully, it goes without saying that creating a monthly folder and leaving it at that won’t protect you. You’ll also need to copy the folder to a CD or drive and put that in a safe place. For example, if you have a fire safe you could store your backup disks or drives inside it. Or better yet, if you have a safety deposit box at the bank, you might store your data there. Another option may be to leave a copy of your data at a trusted friend’s house. Unfortunately, though this might protect the data in case your house burns down, you have no way to insure your friend or someone he or she knows won’t access it. For that reason, take all necessary precautions to insure you and your friend are on the same page with regard to who, if anyone, can access your data beside you. Better yet, buy a lock box you can store at your friend’s house and archive your data there.


It’s A Form Of Insurance


If you have a lot of important personal and financial files, or perhaps own a business, using an online backup service can make good financial sense. In a way, it becomes a form of insurance. One thing it offers that a CD, SD card or drive can’t is the security that if something should go seriously wrong you won’t lose all your data in the process. It also provides a way to access or sync data from remote locations, which may be just as important if you own multiple devices or do a lot of traveling.


Protecting personal and financial data is critical. In the wrong hands, it can be used to access your bank, credit card, insurance or retirement accounts. That could cost untold thousands. Don’t take chances. Do everything you can to protect your data from loss.


Action Plan: If it’s in the budget, sign up today for an online plan to backup all your most critical files. If an online plan isn’t in the cards, then don’t wait to set up a file system like the one we described above, and then start backing up your data manually to keep it secure. You’ll never be sorry you took the time and effort if and when you run into a problem. On the other hand, you may rue the day if your computer crashes or is stolen and you knew better but kept putting off a solution.


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