Data Doctors: Online vs. traditional backup

Q: What are your thoughts between an external backup drive and an online backup service for my data?

A: In my more than 20 years of providing data recovery services, it’s obvious that there’s as much confusion about backing up critical data as there has ever been.

Our data recovery division sees the results of this confusion on a daily basis as most of the conversations start with “I thought …”.

The concept of backing up isn’t the confusing part; it’s in the implementation that most people end up failing to protect themselves.

External drive: Pros and cons

One of the most common backup methods is to connect an external hard drive to your computer and set up a backup program to make copies.

Unfortunately, far too many people buy what is labeled a backup drive, connect it to their computer and start saving their important files directly to the drive.

Backup implies that there is more than one copy, which isn’t the case when files are saved directly to the external drive.

Another mistake people make with external drives to fail to set up automatic scheduling, so putting it on the user to remember to manually run a backup every time.  As time goes on, the “I’ll get around to it tomorrow” behavior takes over, and it gets forgotten.

“My computer was brand new, so I didn’t think the hard drive would crash” is another common statement we hear.

Another potential problem with the external drive configuration, especially with laptops, is that it needs to be plugged in when the automated backup tries to run.

External backups aren’t great at protecting against theft, fire, flood or the growing threat of ransomware, because what affects your computer will also affect your backup drive.

Online backup: Pros and cons

When high-speed, always-on Internet connections became commonplace, pushing your critical data to the cloud become practical.

Unlike most external hard drive backups, online backups are automatically encrypted, so that even if someone gains access to your data, it’s not directly readable.

You’ll find more resources about online backup services at Data Doctors’ website.

Online backup companies are also in the cyber-security business, so they’re more likely to be aware of emerging threats than average users trying to protect themselves at home.

With external backups, there is a one-time cost. But online backup services have annual fees, so over time, it’ll cost more to use an online backup.

Online backup services provide superior protection against ransomware, because they aren’t directly attached to your computer, so the malware can’t infect your backup files.

Most online services also include file “versioning” — keeping multiple copies of changed files, which can be really helpful when you accidentally overwrite a file and don’t realize it for a while.

The 3-2-1 backup strategy

The very best backup strategy incorporates three copies of your data on at least two different devices with at least one of them off-site.

If you’re really interested in protecting your critical data, your best bet is to use both an external hard drive and online backup service, such as Carbonite.

Data recovery services can get really expensive, and sophisticated ransomware encryption is unbreakable, forcing many to pay the ransom — so having extra layers of protection can save you a lot of money and heartache.

Ken Colburn is the founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on his Facebook page or on Twitter.

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