If you use a computer or mobile device long enough, something will eventually go wrong. You may accidentally delete the wrong files, have a hardware failure, or lose a device. Even worse, malware, such as ransomware, may wipe your files and/or hold them captive. At times like these, backups are often the only way you can rebuild your digital life.
What, When, and How
Backups are copies of your information stored somewhere other than on your computer or mobile device. When you lose valuable data, you can recover your data from backups. The first step is deciding what you want to back up: specific data that is important to you or everything, including your entire operating system. Many backup solutions are configured by default to use the first approach. They back up the most commonly used folders. If you are not sure what to back up or want to be extra careful, back up everything.
Second, decide how frequently to back up. Built-in backup programs, such as Apple’s Time Machine or Windows Backup and Restore, allow you to create an automatic “set it and forget it” schedule. Common options include hourly, daily, weekly, etc. Other solutions offer “continuous protection” in which new or altered files back up immediately each time you save a document. At a minimum, we recommend automated daily backups of critical files.
Finally, decide how you are going to back up. There are two ways: locally or Cloud-based. Local backups rely upon devices you control, such as external USB drives or Wi-Fi accessible network devices. The advantage of local backups is that they enable you to back up and recover large amounts of data quickly. The disadvantage is if you become infected with malware, such as Ransomware, it is possible for the infection to spread to your backups. Also, if there’s a fire, theft, or other disaster, it can result in you losing not only your computer, but the backups, as well. If you use external devices for backups, store a copy off-site in a secure location and make sure your backups are properly labeled.
Cloud-based solutions are online services that store your files on the Internet. Typically, you install an application on your computer. The application then automatically backs your files either on a schedule or as you modify them. An advantage of Cloud solutions is their simplicity; backups are often automatic, and you can usually access your files from anywhere. Also, since your data resides in the Cloud, home disasters, such as fire or theft, will not affect your backup. Finally, Cloud backups can help you recover from malware infections such as Ransomware. The disadvantage is your ability to back up and restore depends on how much data you have backed up and the speed of your network. Not sure if you want to use local or Cloud- based for backups? Be extra safe and use both.
With mobile devices, most of your data is already stored in the Cloud. However, your mobile app configurations, recent photos, and system preferences may not be. By backing up your mobile device, not only do you preserve this information, but it is easier to transfer your data when you upgrade to a new device.
Backing up your data is only half the battle. You must also be sure that you can recover it. Test periodically that your backups are working by retrieving and opening a file.
If you rebuild a system from a backup, be sure you reapply the latest security patches and updates before using it again.
If you are using a Cloud solution, select one that is easy for you to use and research the security options. For example, do they support two-step verification to secure your online account?
Backups are a simple and low-cost way to protect your digital life.
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OUCH! is published by SANS Security Awareness and is distributed under the Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. You are free to share or distribute this newsletter as long as you do not sell or modify it. Editorial Board: Walt Scrivens, Phil Hoffman, Alan Waggoner, Cheryl Conley.
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