During this time, perhaps more so than any point in recent history, individuals in all professions will work remotely. Whether in branch offices, home offices, or at kitchen tables, more people than ever find themselves in this situation. If you count yourself among them, you should take steps to protect and recover the data you create and store locally.
While you may think you need backup software to get started, you may first take other steps to protect your data. These include leveraging overlooked operating system features, economical storage technologies, and the latest anti-virus software technologies. Used together, you may create a comprehensive personal DR plan to quickly protect and recover your data.
To create a viable DR plan, you likely already own the hardware and software you need to get started. This makes taking the initial steps to protecting your data and recovering it easy and economical to accomplish. Here are five steps that you can follow with each step incurring progressively more cost and/or time to implement.
Step 1 – Copy Your Data to an External Storage Location
If you do nothing else suggested here, copy any data you create to an external storage location. This is the single most important task you can perform. You can replace your computer, your hard drives, and your application software. However, you will find it nigh unto impossible to replace or recreate any of your original data or files. The great news is that you can quickly, easily, and economically complete this step.
Identify Your Data
First identify the location or locations on your computer where you store any data you create, modify, or update. You will likely find copies of this data in your Documents folder. Your applications often store this data in this folder location by default.
Files you will want to protect include pictures, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoints, or any files created by the applications you regularly use. You may also want to make of your emails. However, many cloud-base providers retain emails for at least 90 days if not a year or longer. If you use one of these providers, this may minimize or negate the need for you to make a copy of your emails.
Cloud Storage and Thumb Drives
Next, choose one and ideally two external storage locations to copy this data. This location may reside in the cloud, locally, or both. Best practices call for making a copy of your data both locally and in the cloud.
Cloud storage options may cost you little or nothing. Many cloud-based plans cost nothing to get started. Monthly fees will only start to accrue when you store between 2 and 10GB of data with the provider. Their fees start at $2-10 per month, recur monthly, and may go up over time as you store more data with them.
As a local storage option, consider using a thumb drive. If you do not already own one, you may obtain a 32GB drive for under $10 from almost any retailer. Those willing to pay up to $50 can obtain thumb drives with capacities up to 256GB. That amount of capacity should meet the storage needs of most individuals.
Copy and Paste
Once you make your cloud and/or local storage selections, perform a copy and paste operation. Use your operating systems’ file manager to select the files you want to protect, choose “Copy,” and then drop or paste these files to the cloud or local storage drive destination.
Depending on the amount of data you choose to copy and the destination, the process could take some time to complete. One minute per GB is a realistic rule of thumb to use to estimate how long the copy process will take. It will take about this amount of time to copy your data to each external storage location.
If you only copy your data to one external storage location, make that location inaccessible to your computer once the copy completes. Disconnecting or removing it will protect that data in the event of a virus or malware attack.
A Stopgap Measure
One should view making a copy of your data to an external storage location as only a stopgap measure. Unless you take time to copy your data daily or weekly or install backup software, this initial copy of data will get stale and hinder the success of a recovery. Further, this recommendation primarily applies to protecting your desktop or laptop data.
Taking this step will, however, give you time to put a more permanent solution in place. It also provides assurance that you can recover some if not all your data should you do nothing else.
Step 2 – Install and Activate Anti-virus and Anti-malware Software
Aside from human error, malware and viruses may present the biggest threats to your system’s and data’s integrity. If attacked, you may lose access to your system, your data or both.
Aggravating the situation, once compromised, one frequently must recover from a backup. Trying to rebuild or recover data on the compromised system often takes too long with the risks outweighing the benefits.
In the case of viruses and malware, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. To mitigate the possibility of an attack, verify you have anti-virus and anti-malware software installed and operational on your system.
One should absolutely install and activate this software if running the Windows operating system on your laptop or PC. One may obtain both free and fee-based subscription-based versions of anti-malware and anti-virus software from multiple different providers. Many will find that the Windows Defender application included with the Microsoft Windows operating system meets their needs.
Running a different operating system (OS) on your laptop or desktop, such as MAC OS or Linux, may negate the need for this software. While viruses and malware that target these OSes do exist, they are few and far between.
Step 3 – Create a System Recovery Disk
Having protected your data from loss and your system from attack, Windows users should next create a system recovery disk. A system recovery disk enables you to recover should your operating system become inoperable. A hard disk drive failure will most likely cause a system failure though a faulty operating system patch or upgrade could also necessitate a system recovery.
Here again, creating a system recovery disk is an easy and economical task to perform. You will need a separate USB flash drive with at least 16GB of capacity, available for under $10 from any retailer. You can only use this flash drive for a system recovery. When the Windows operating system creates the recovery disk, it deletes any other data on it.
To create the system recovery disk, start the Windows Recovery Drive application. This is a wizard-like operation that completes in three steps. The wizard will prompt you for a USB flash drive. Before it creates the system recovery disk, it warns you that it will delete all data on the flash drive. Allow one hour for Windows to create the System Recovery Disk. Once completed, label the flash drive and store it in a safe place near the laptop or PC that it can recover.
You should note that creating a system recovery disk only facilitates performing a recovery on your existing laptop or PC. This recovery will take time. You should minimally reserve at least a 2-3 hours to perform a recovery and potentially more. This estimate does not account for any time to repair any failed hardware, like a disk drive, on your system.
Step 4 – Install and Configure Backup Software
Backup software provides you the means to schedule backups that regularly save any changes you make to your data. You may take this step in lieu of initially creating a copy of your data. However, completing this step takes more time and incurs more cost than manually creating a copy of your data.
Most backup software designed for PCs and laptops will back up your data. Most give you options to schedule hourly, daily, weekly backups, or some combination of all three. Two additional key features to look for in these products include:
- Backup data locally and to the cloud. Most backup software will backup data to local storage and to the cloud. Most if not all will support storage directly attached to your local system as well as to your network.
Differences primarily occur in the type of cloud connectivity they offer. Some offer their own cloud for storing your data. Others use general-purpose cloud providers such as Amazon or Microsoft as a storage target. Of the two, give preference to one that offers its own cloud to store your data. Setting up cloud storage with a general-purpose provider incurs extra cost and complexity.
- Offers a disk-to-disk-to-cloud (D2D2C) option. Ideally you will want to keep copies of data both locally and in the cloud. You could do two backups of your data: one that gets stored locally and another one that goes to the cloud. A better option is to select backup software that first creates and stores a backup locally. Once it completes that backup, one may then configure it to copy that backup to the cloud.
Expect to pay up to $100 for backup software that offers these features though many regularly run sales for up to 50 percent off. Exercise caution if choosing backup software that only backs up to the cloud. The first backup can take many hours or even a day or longer to complete. It also ties up bandwidth and can result in recoveries that take equally long to complete.
Backing up data locally has its own challenges. You will need extra storage space to store your backup data. 1TB external hard drives that connect to your USB port start at about $50 and can be obtained from most retailers.
Be sure to reserve time to set up and configure your entire backup solution. Evaluating available backup software, cloud storage, and local storage options, setting them up, and then running the first backup could take a week or more. One needs to exercise some self-discipline to see this entire process through to the end.
Step 5 – Keep an Economical PC or Laptop on Standby
By the time you reach this step, you should have completed most, if not all, of the previous steps. This step of keeping an economical PC or laptop on standby will do little to protect your production data. Having a system on standby will, however, greatly reduce the time it takes you to recover and resume operations.
You likely already own an old laptop or PC that no longer meets your day-to-day needs. However, your old system often can serve as an adequate stand-in. It can function in this role for a few days or even longer while you obtain a new primary system. Even if you do not have an older, existing system you can use, you may obtain a very functional new laptop for $300-400. While it does not come with all the bells and whistles, it can more than adequately serve as a stand-in.
A readily accessible system coupled with a recent copy of your data can bring you back up and operational very quickly – likely in under an hour. If you go down this path, here are a few tips:
- Isolate this system from your network. Keeping it isolated helps protect it should a ransomware attack occur on your primary system. If this secondary computer is connected to your network and turned on, it could be infected as well.
- Install your backup software on it. While you will not necessarily need to back up this system, you will need the backup software to perform a recovery.
- Install the latest anti-virus software and scan any data you recover. Some strains of ransomware may remain latent for weeks or even months. As a result, it may reside in existing backups. Recovering this data will only serve to re-introduce the ransomware into your new system. Using the latest anti-virus software and scanning recovered data helps prevent introducing the virus onto your standby system.
A Viable, Cost-effect Personal DR Plan
Following all five of these steps will provide you with the means to recover in your home in a very short amount of time – probably in an hour or less. All these steps only require basic computer skills though the latter steps will take more time to complete.
In many cases, you likely already own the hardware and software needed to create a viable DR at little or no cost. Even if you own none of the items suggested here, you may still accomplish many or all the steps for under $500. Regardless, whether you complete only the first step or all five, you will put yourself in a better position to recover should you lose just some of your data or your entire system.