Navigating the Ocean of Technology - Part 7

We hammer the use of backups pretty hard - and for good reason. Nothing on your computer is more important than your data. Pictures, tax forms, health and insurance information, music and videos. Those things can be irreplaceable and precious. Your data faces two major threats: component failure and malware.

The first threat exists because every storage medium - be it a spinning disk, an SSD, a DVD or a Flash drive - will fail. Everything made by humans will fail. Some will fail faster than others. That is why we must plan for it.

The second threat is also a product of humans. Malware - especially the ransomware variety - has the potential to destroy all your irreplaceable and precious data. Ransomware continues to grow and get more sophisticated. There are organizations that sell ransomware kits to would-be extortionists. The kits allow the buyer to set up their own ransomware complete with command-and-control, infection methods and payment processing. It is only going to get worse.

Some of the things you need to consider when setting up a backup plan are:

  • your data changes with time;
  • a hardware failure can occur at any time;
  • your backup media can also fail; and,
  • any data you can access from your computer can also be accessed by malware.

We recommend using an external, USB drive about twice the size of your personal data. One Terabyte (1TB) is a good size/price in most cases. Remembering our last blog post about file systems, you can use the File Explorer to locate you user folder – for example, C:\Users\Owner. If you right-click on that folder and pick Properties from the pop-up menu, the total size of the folder will be displayed. If there is more than one user, you can select all applicable folders by using Ctrl-click, then right clicking any highlighted folder to get to the properties.

External drives have backup software included. Frankly, it isn’t very good because it is usually a free, somewhat hobbled version used to entice you into buying the ‘full’ version. Most commercial backup programs also compress your files for storage. That saves space but, when your disk crashes and you need your files, you can’t get to your files until you install the software on a new drive/system. You also can’t verify you’ve got a good backup. We prefer software that backs up individual, readable files. We use a free Microsoft program called SyncToy. It sounds a little frivolous for such a serious purpose but it really is quite sturdy and meets all our needs.

As with most backup software, SyncToy is set up by defining what you want backed up, where it will be stored and when you want it to run the backup. It would be great if there was a way to “set-it-and-forget-it” but the truth is, the very best you can do is to develop the backup habit. We often set up a simple program where the user clicks on a desktop icon to back up the user files to an external drive, then shut down the computer. That way, you can click the icon and walk away – and disconnect the drive the next morning.

Remember: your data is priceless but iron (as in a hard-drive) is cheap.

If you have questions or suggestions on future topics, write us at or follow us on Facebook (#CompassComputerClinic). Stay safe and be happy!

Date: February 9th at 12:55pm
Author: Jim Chenvert
Tags: windows, tips