Back Up Your Computer. Back Up Your Computer.  Back Up... Am I Being Redundant?This is about backups — again. Anyone in my position would find it difficult to avoid being repetitive about the necessity of regular backups of digital data. I deal with a lot of senior clients, but the culprits could be any clients who use computers. I tell them, “Back up your computer!” but they do not listen. Many clients seem to have a real aversion to making backups. In days past, I could see how this might happen since backing up was either a manual thing that required direct intervention at timely intervals, or it was a relatively complicated application that might not actually do what needed to be done.

Modern techniques make backing up simple. Combine this with continuing decrease in the cost of storage, and backing up is a no-brainer. In fact, sufficient free storage is available on the Internet that one need not even purchase an external drive or pay for off-site storage for backing up personal data if cost is an issue.

When one of my clients recently lost some things due to no backup whatsoever, I showed her the almost embarrassing array of backups that I keep routinely. Since I am not satisfied with a single backup, I have several. Some readers might think my zeal excessive, but I actually surpass the 3-2-1 rule (three copies on two different media types and one off-site). Part of my paranoia about losing data came several years ago when a friend of mine, who was the head of IT for a major local company, had an accident. He had seven computers in his house with multiple backups and a common server. He knew what he was doing and his system was truly secure. However, we have certain seasons here that other parts of the country might not have. We have a fire season, and he lived in the back country. It is very pretty where he lived out amongst the trees. A few years ago we had a major fire that destroyed his house. Later he told me that he had never planned on the whole damned thing being destroyed at once. He lost everything, and he knew he should have had off-site storage. If even a professional can be burned, I needed to take special care.

This week another client brought me her husband’s computer. He had passed away after a long illness in which he used the computer daily since he was not able to get around. She had pulled some stuff off onto a USB stick to copy to her computer when the HD apparently suffered a head crash. Maybe it objected to being moved around a lot. Maybe it was just old. Maybe it missed its master. At least she recovered his contacts and some other things before it went down, and that is good because they had no backup for either his computer or hers. She tells me she will be more careful now.

She asked if I could recover any more personal data from the dead machine. If I could have, I would have, but nothing I could do would let me talk to it. Even my forensic software could not wake up the HD when I installed it as an external drive on my test rig. I suggested that if she really wanted to recover anything, she would have to take the faulty HD to a specialist and for many bucks, they would take it apart and perhaps recover things. She declined and asked me to destroy the HD (which, given the situation, was a bit redundant). After a couple of swings with a maul, I was pretty sure she was safe.

In both cases, the clients knew that backups were recommended, but neither bothered. I wonder if they drive around with no spare tires in their cars.

Maybe the storage technology is simply at an awkward stage. If our storage media were less reliable, we would probably all back up our data religiously. If our storage media were more reliable, then perhaps data loss would be so rare that we would not need to worry about it. After all, most people do not have earthquake insurance, and they sleep soundly at night without worrying about losses. Similarly, if you look at old photos of automobiles, they often have two spare tires mounted either on both sides or in tandem in back. The industry evolved from a pair of spares to a single spare tire of normal size as failure rates decreased. Now most automobiles have a down-sized spare instead of a regular tire. As failure of data storage similarly becomes less of an issue, our backup habits will likely follow a similar progression. Right now we are at the one-spare-tire phase. I doubt either technology will ever migrate to no spare tires or to no backup needed.

But here is the frustrating thing: You certainly must know people who do drive around with no spare tire, and we all know people who blithely go about life without worrying about backups and they never get burned. It is all a matter of probability. Some people will win and some will lose. Those in the middle who see unprotected people surviving without difficulty are tempted to emulate them and not worry about backups. These are my future clients who will panic when their system fails to boot. Getting new clients is good, but there are better ways to find them.

So I see no help for it; I must be repetitive and continually be warning about backups — without becoming a nag and alienating the very people I am trying to help. That is a delicate line to walk.