What is Data Backup?
Data backup is the process of copying important data to preserve it as an alternate in case original data is damaged or becomes unusable. The duplicate copy of the data is stored on storage devices such as external hard disks, USB drives, CD/DVD/Blu-ray discs, in-house servers or cloud. The main purpose of a backup is to be able to easily restore the data in case of an event such as accidental deletion, computer virus attack, system failure, data corruption, theft or a natural calamities. Data backup is like an insurance plan. It mitigates the damage in case of data loss. It is critical for organisations to protect their critical business data against viruses and other threats by prioritising scheduled data backups. In the long run, backing up data is easy and inexpensive in comparison to recovering it after a system crash or recreating it.
What is the Need for Backup?
With large amount of data being created everywhere every day, it has become very important for businesses and individuals alike. The improper disclosure of sensitive data can also cause harm to organisations as well as individuals. Therefore, it is to everyone’s advantage to ensure that sensitive data is protected. Physical security is the key to safe and confidential data. Data faces multiple threats; from a malicious outsider, a virus or malware, a system failure or a natural disaster.
We all have experienced some sort of data loss, and still think that businesses only need data backup. This misconception further increases the chance of data loss, as we don’t take proper precautions and overlook the unforeseen threats. With the popularity of smartphone, people tend to store more and more important data on their devices again increasing the chance of data loss.
Reasons for Data Loss
Data loss is an event that results in the destruction of valuable data due to various factors including hardware failure and user negligence. According to a survey, more than two-fifth of users lose data because of hardware or system malfunctions. There are various reasons for data loss such as system breakdown, virus, human error, natural disaster and even software upgrade.
The most common forms resulting in loss of data for individuals and organisations are:
Human Error: Human error is the biggest cause of data loss and accounts for about one-third of reported incidents of data loss. It is the biggest area of concern for organisations when it comes to data loss. It is bigger than outside threats, such as malicious attacks and natural disasters. Deleting files accidently, ignoring persistent backup errors, not backing up the appropriate data, etc. are some examples of human errors. Caution and regular training on data handling procedures can help users avoid such errors. With proper management, such kind of errors are avoidable. For example, network managers can lock down user permissions to limit the access to certain data or the actions they’re able to take.
Viruses Attacks: This is another common cause of lost data. There are many sophisticated viruses which attack computers every day. The damages they foist may differ but most of them affect software operations, misuse Internet and damage stored data. Making regular backups of your data on other devices or online will help you restore your original data in such events. Use of a good antivirus software and keeping it updated will protect you from these attacks and reduce the risk of data loss caused by viruses.
System Malfunction: Hardware or system malfunctions can be in many forms, such as sudden power failure, accidental dropping, manufacturing defects and general wear and tear. It is one of the most common causes of data loss along with human errors. To avoid hardware or system malfunctions, you should handle your device properly and keep it in a safe, dry and dust-free area. Additionally, using an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) system reduces the risk of data loss because of power failure.
Hardware Theft: This is a common occurrence. You may leave your laptop or smartphone unattended and lose it while travelling or burglars may break into your home and steal your devices. Although theft of hardware devices is surely inconvenient, it is replaceable. However, if the hardware lost contains potentially critical personal or business data, then it is a loss to fear. It is important to take security measures to protect both hardware and data, for example by backing up the data in a different location.
Natural Disaster: Natural disasters like cyclones, flood and fire can be detrimental to the data. The best protection against these is to minimise the risk of data loss by storing it on cloud or off-site storage, which are usually located in potentially safer areas in different countries.
What Data to Backup and How Often?
Data backup is time consuming and requires lots of storage space. The first step to secure data is knowing what sort of data you have and its importance in the current scenario. Based on the importance of the data, you should then decide what levels of protection are required to keep the data both confidential and safe from loss. Moreover, it is essential to know which data to back up and how often you should run the backup. For businesses, keeping only the data they need for routine business, and safely archiving or destroying older data from all computers and other devices is the way to go.
Backing up unimportant data will cost you valuable resources such as time, storage space and money to maintain it. The frequency of change to data will help you determine how often the data should be backed up. For example, if your data changes weekly, then it should be backed up weekly, not daily. You should have a proper backup policy in place that identifies the important data and prioritises its back up rules. This will make the backup exercise simpler and effective. You should also train yourself how to respond if there is a data loss or data breach incident.
Data Backup Methods
There are different backup methods and each of them has their own advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the right backup method is one of the most important decisions you need to make as a network system manager or even as a personal user; when protecting your valuable data. You should learn to develop an effective data backup and recovery plan for your organisation. Let’s learn about the most common backup methods available, including full backup, incremental backup, differential backup, and mirror backup.
Full backup method backs up everything (files and their respective folders) selected for the backup job to the backup destination. Although the name suggests that it is a backup of all the files on a system, you can still customise the list of files or folders that you want to back up and the ones you want to exclude. This way you can back up only the important files as well as speed up the backup process. Every time a full backup is initiated, all files and folders designated in the backup job get backed up. In the next backup cycle, again all designated files and folders, including the ones that have not been modified, will be backed up. This repeats in every backup run. As all the chosen files and folders are copied for the backup every time the full backup is performed, this method is significantly slower compared to other methods. Another disadvantage of this backup method is that it consumes the maximum storage space as compared to other backup methods such as incremental and differential backups. Although, the full backup method is not the preferred choice for many due to its slow nature, it has some advantages; for example, the restoration of data. In case of a data loss incident, this method is fast as the entire list of files and folders are stored in one backup set. It is also reliable and easy to manage.
An incremental backup backs up only the changed files and new files created since the last incremental or full backup. With incremental backups, the first backup is always full backup, and the subsequent backups are incremental backups. This backup method saves both time and storage space as only the changes since the previous backup are backed up. For example, if there are five files to be backed up using incremental backup; then the first backup, which is the full backup, copies all the files to the backup destination. When it is time for the next backup, and only two files have undergone changes, then only the modified files will be copied, instead of all the five files.
In the event of data loss, the recovery process is slower in this method as all backup sets (first full backup and all incremental backups) are required to perform a successful data restoration. This increases the risk of data loss—one of its significant disadvantages.
Differential backup works much like incremental backup; however, with a minor variation. It copies only the files created or changed since the last full backup, not since the last (differential) backup. Whereas, an incremental backup copies the files created or changed since the last full or incremental backup. Differential backups consume less time than full backups but more time than incremental backups. This backup method also requires more storage space; however, the data restoration is easier and more reliable.
As the name implies, a mirror backup makes an exact copy of a file or folder to be backed up. The data is updated in real time. For example, any change made to a source file is immediately updated in that file in the mirror backup copy. When a file is deleted at the source, that file is also deleted in the mirror backup automatically. Mirror backup is the fastest backup method as it stores all the copied files and folders in the destination folder separately, without any compression. Note that, the other backup methods use a single compressed ‘container file’ to store all the files and folders being backed up.
Online Data Backup
Online data backup is a method of regularly creating a data backup on a remote server or computer securely over a network or the Internet. This is also known as cloud storage.The backup storage medium is typically located at a remote place and always connected to the source device by a network or Internet connection. To run backups, you don’t have to manually plug in storage media or drive. It is convenient, safe and accessible at any time.
Many companies, called online backup service providers or cloud providers, offer subscription services for cloud storage to consumers, who can rent certain amount of storage against a fee. Most of them also offer free storage up to a certain storage and charge beyond that. A data centre is where large amount of consumer’s data is securely stored. It is a data storage facility at a remote place that houses computer systems and associated components such as telecommunication and storage systems.
Backing up your data on the cloud has many advantages. For example, it will never disappear if your phone gets lost, your computer crashes or gets hacked. In addition, you can always have access to your data from any phone, tablet or computer that’s connected to the Internet.
Some of the advantages of online data backup are:
Convenience: Online backup is the most convenient way of regularly backing up data. Simply, keep the data you want to back up on the virtual drive provided by the cloud service provider. It automatically syncs with cloud storage (without any physical handling) unlike backing up data on external hard drives or flash drives. Online backup is accessible from anywhere as long as there is Internet connectivity. Moreover, as the responsibility of securing the data lies on the cloud service provider, you can concentrate solely on your work without worrying about data security.
Safety: As your data is stored and managed professionally in a remote location, which can be in a different country or even continent, the typical threats of hacking, virus, fire, flooding or theft can be ruled out. In fact, the data is stored in a more secure environment and on secure, encrypted servers and systems. You can also opt for additional security services provided by the companies for your invaluable data.
Ease of Recovery: Cloud service providers often store multiple copies of your data at locations independent of each other. This ensures the survival of at least one copy in case of a natural disaster or an accident should it ever get lost.
Affordability: Backing up your data on the cloud can be less expensive, because as a customer you don’t have to purchase any hardware (server, tape drives) and software needed for storage and don’t need to pay for maintenance (cooling, power, IT labour and challenges related to data centre).
Cloud Backup Service Providers
Cloud backup, also known as online backup, is a method for backing up valuable data that is transmitted over a private network or the Internet and securely stored on an off site server in a professional data centre. The off site server is usually hosted and more often owned by a third party service provider, also known as cloud provider. The cloud provider offers free storage up to a certain limit, usually 5GB and beyond that it charges the customer a fee based on capacity, bandwidth or number of users.
There are many cloud providers and the most popular ones are Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud and Dropbox. Choosing the right service for your backup requirement is a bit difficult. Let’s learn about them one by one next.
OneDrive, formerly known as SkyDrive, is Microsoft’s cloud storage solution. It offers users a simple way to store, sync and share all sorts of files with other people and devices on the web. It also provides an offline virtual drive for Windows and Mac OS X. You can keep the files (including photos, videos and documents) that you want to upload in this virtual drive, and when you go online, everything is synced automatically to all your devices. You can also use the OneDrive app for Windows 10, which lets you easily work with your personal and work files when you’re on the go. You can save and share files with free online storage, open and save OneDrive files in Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. The auto tagging feature makes it easy to find photos on your device.
You can store any kind of file; including photos, video and documents and then access them from any of your Windows PCs or mobile devices. OneDrive organises your files by type. In addition, you can create and edit documents, add or remove files and share links to the files by emails.
Google Drive or just Drive is a cloud storage service developed by Google. It allows you to store your files securely on the cloud, open, edit or share them from any device. You can access your Google Drive files from any computer or device with a web browser. You can access your files in Google Drive from any device that includes smartphones, tablets or computers. Moreover, you can invite others to view, download and collaborate on files on your Google Drive. You don’t have to send these files as email attachments. Google Drive is also available for iOS, so if you use a Mac, you can also add, view and manage files to Google Drive and they will automatically sync with your other devices. Google Drive is built into Google’s web-based operating system called Chromium.
Apple iCloud Drive
Apple’s iCloud Drive is a cloud storage service or online backup service for the Apple ecosystem (Mac and iOS devices). It syncs and stores your files across Apple devices. There is also a Windows app for iCloud Drive, called iCloud for Windows. iCloud Drive comes with a standard 5GB of data for free, and beyond that you will be charged as per your usage. iCloud drive also serves as your iOS device’s backup solution, which means if your iCloud drive storage is full, your iOS device simply stops backing up until you free space or choose a plan that provides more backup space.
Dropboxis another popular file hosting service that can be used as your online backup. It offers a virtual drive similar to Google Drive or OneDrive. You can save files in the virtual drive on your computer, then access them on your phone from anywhere. Everything you keep in Dropbox is synced automatically to all your devices. Dropbox offers only 2GB of free online storage for storing photos, videos and music as well as for hosting static websites. However, there are a few ways to get more Dropbox storage, for free. For example, if you complete the “Get Started” tour, you will get 250 MB; if you connect your social media accounts with Dropbox, you will get additional free storage and so on.
With Dropbox, sharing large files is as fast as sharing small ones. Simply, put any file in your Dropbox, then send it to someone with a simple link. You can send a link by email, chat or a text message. When someone receive a link to a file, they can preview and download a copy. You can turn on the camera upload option to back up photos automatically from your camera roll to Dropbox, which it will organise smartly. Dropbox includes a 30-day version history, therefore, in case you accidentally delete A file or went to restore a previous version, it will come in handy.
Backing Up and Restoring Data in Windows 10
There are multiple threats to data from a malicious intruders, such as human errors or natural disasters. It is very important to perform regular backups to prevent the loss of valuable data. A Backup simply copies your data to a removable disk that you can store somewhere safe, ideally in off-site locations (not somewhere in your building that your computer is in). Here, cloud backup is an ideal choice to keep your data safe.
Windows 10 has a number of features that allow you to perform both simple and more comprehensive system backups. The two common backups are, full backup and incremental backup.
Backing Up Data in Mac OS X
Time Machine is the built-in backup utility for Mac OS X. It automatically backs up all of your files including photos, music, videos, documents, applications and settings to an external hard drive so that you can restore them later, if needed. You need an external storage to be able to back up with Time Machine. You can connect the external hard drive to a USB, FireWire or Thunderbolt port on your Mac, or Time Capsule or mac0S server on your network.
When you connect an external hard drive directly to your Mac, you might be asked if you want to use the drive to back up with Time Machine. Click on ‘Use as Backup Disk’ You can also encrypt the backup disk by selecting the Encrypt Backup Disk
Secure Data Destruction and Its Need
Today, sensitive data is arguably one of the most precious assets and it can cause a great deal of damage if it falls into wrong hands. In recent years, a number of breaches in data security have highlighted the importance of proper data handling and secure data destruction from all data storage media. Data destruction, as the name implies, is the process of destroying data stored on various electronic storage media such as hard disks, tapes, cloud storage, NAS storage arrays, server storage or other small media such as flash drives and CDs/DVDs that contains sensitive information. The main of aim of data destruction is to make the data completely inaccessible and unreadable for unauthorised purposes.
Deleting a file from a computer does not destroy it permanently. Even if you erase the entire drive or format it, the data stored is not permanently destroyed. Therefore, people should be extra careful before disposing or selling their devices. Because, sensitive data, if not destroyed properly, can cause serious monetary and psychological damage.
Deleting Vs. Permanent Data Destruction
Often people assume that simply deleting data is sufficient; however, it is not the case as deletion can still leave data vulnerable to theft. Let’s first understand how data is stored on a storage media.
On a hard disk, the data is stored magnetically on a platter, which is a shiny, circular and magnetic plate. There are one or more platters. There’s an arm, called a read/ write head that moves a tiny magnet back and forth across the platter to store information. A platter is further divided into tracks, which are concentric circles, and each track is broken up into smaller areas called sectors
The central spindle rotates the platter at high speed to help store and retrieve the data from the platter. To improve search performance, the operating system maintains an index of the files on a computer. The OS can update the index itself when there is change in the data. When deleting all files or formatting the entire hard drive, the index gets formatted. This essentially tells the computer that the hard disk is empty. When new data is stored on the drive, it simply overwrites the previous data. Thus, deleting a file, formatting a hard drive or even reinstalling the operating system doesn’t really destroy the data permanently and is retrievable.
Ways to Permanently Destroy Data
There are many ways to destroy the data on your computer or laptop, such as data wiping and physical data destruction.
Data Wiping: It is process that involves software based data erasure. Software like Eraser employs multiple passes and overwrites each file with gibberish data. This ensures that the original data is lost.
Physical Data Destruction: Physically destroying is the most effective way of ensuring that nobody has access to data on that drive. There are machines that are capable of shredding hard drives, data tapes, servers and other physical data storage media.