Imagine you’re at work and the phone rings. It’s your alarm company, your home has been burglarized. You arrive home and, among other possessions, your computer is gone. To make matters worse, so are your accounting files, several years worth of email, and every digital photo you have of your kids. If you’re lucky, your computer will just be sold for quick cash to support someone’s drug habbit. But if you’re unlucky, some scumbag will be rifling through the personal information on your hard drive.

Sadly, this isn’t just imagination. Computers, especially laptops, are easily stolen and face other threats like being dropped or accidentally left in a taxi. Of course it could all be much less dramatic: Your hard drive could just fail causing you to loose everything on it. The good news it that protecting your data is easier today than ever before.

There are several ways to protect your data. For example, I burn my original digital images to DVD and store them separately from my computer. External USB hard drives are also large and inexpensive, last I looked you could pick up a 250 GB drive at Costco for around $100. The more technically inclined can also purchase a Network Accessible Storage (NAS) device and backup across your network. All of these options protect against hard drive failures, and they might protect you against theft if you hide them or store them off-site. But the problem with these methods is that most people don’t automate them and they forget. And with DVD or USB drive backups, automating it requires that you leave the media connected, where it is likely to be stolen along with the computer.

Fortunately there’s a better option for most home users: Internet backup services. A few years ago when I looked at some of the services they were too expensive and complex to recommend. But times have changed, and services like Carbonite have become cheapn ($50/year for unlimited backup space) and very easy. Carbonite integrates into Windows so that you can simply right-click on files and folders to set whether they should be backed up. I configured the product to automatically back up my desktop and documents and worked great. The reason I’m starting to recommend these types of services is that they are simple and automatic. Once configured, Carbonite automatically backs up files in the background as they change. The first backup may take a while, even a few days, but then it only uploads changes. From a security perspective, the product offers advanced users the ability to maintain their own cryptographic keys. If you choose this option nobody at Carbonite will have access to your files, but if you loose your key neither will you.

For more advanced users, or those who want more control over the backup process, another great product is Jungle Disk. Jungle Disk leverages Amazon’s S3 storage product. In fact, you open your own account with Amazon, pay $20 for Jungle Disk (you can try it for free for 30 days), and within minutes you’re able to back up data to Amazon’s ultra-reliable storage service for $0.15 per GB per month (storage) plus $0.10 per GIG for data transfers and a few other small fees. Put in perspective, tranfering one GB of data to S3 and storing it for a month will cost you about thirty cents. Jungle Disk’s backup capability is more traditional, meaning that you define and schedule back-up jobs within the application. If your computer isn’t turned on (such as if often the case with a laptop), you’ll probably need to remember to run it manually, and for that reason Carbonite is probably a better bet for most laptop users. However, Jungle Disk also allows you to create a storage container (called a “bucket”) on S3 and map it to a drive on one or more of your computers. You can use the drive like you would a local drive, and uploads to S3 occur in the background. Advanced users can use this functionality with their existing backup software or even manually transfer files to it.

Jungle Disk communites with the Amazon S3 service using HTTPS, so it will work from almost anywhere. It also supports optional encryption using 256-bit AES. Enabling this option and typing in a passphrase allows you to have all files encrypted prior to being transfered to S3, giving you a second layer of security.

Next week I’ll have a look at how having the right software on your computer can help you get it, and maybe even your other stuff, back if it is stolen.

One Response to Preventing data disasters


  1. Get your stolen computer back | Eric Jacksch

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