The Best of the Tech Helpline: What’s the Best Way to Protect Your Data?


 June 10, 2019
Best of the Tech Helpline

What’s the worst thing that could happen to you today, technology wise? A computer crash occurs and ruins your hard drive. Or worse, your computer could be stolen. But this is only a major catastrophe if you didn’t back up your data. Except ... when was the last time you backed up all your data?

Agents and brokers are typically busy all the time, driven by a surge in market activity and deal-driven deadlines. If backing up your hard drive keeps getting pushed down your to-do list, it’s time to automate this process.

The good news is you don’t have to back up the data on your hard drive manually. And the best news: the options to back it all up are now easier to set up, faster to accomplish, and less expensive than they have ever been.

Backing up to a portable hard drive

This may be the most popular way to store your data safely in case something happens to your computer. It’s also one of the most cost-effective means, and there’s a plethora of automated software programs available — many are free or are already installed on the portable hard drive you purchase.

The price to store to a tethered hard drive has dropped dramatically. The best-selling 2 terabyte (TB) portable hard drive that’s small enough to fit in your pocket or your purse is under $60 on Amazon. It’s estimated that a 2 TB hard drive can hold over 170 million pages of Word documents or 620,000 photos or 400,000 songs or over 1,000 hours of video.

For PC users, the most recent versions of Windows come with a built-in software system to back up your data. On Windows 8 and 10, it’s called File History; on Windows 7, it’s called Windows Backup. For File History, you need to set up how often you want to back up your files. It can be found from the Start menu if you go to Update & Security, then select Backup.

Once you add a hard drive to File History, you can set how often you want automated backups, from once every 10 minutes to once a day. You can even set File History to delete your very old backups if you need more space.

For Mac users, the simplest way to back it all up is with its built-in backup system, Time Machine, available on every Mac. Time Machine keeps a copy of everything on your Mac, and if you leave your hard drive connected, it automatically can make hourly backups for the last 24 hours, daily backups for the previous month, and weekly backups for each month.

Like most backup programs, Time Machine doesn’t copy your entire Mac each time; instead, it only copies what changed. The program is called Time Machine because it will keep a copy of every document you change that day. If you deleted or modified a Word document on Monday and needed to get back that exact version on Friday, you can go back in time to retrieve it.

Even with these perks, are external hard drives or built-in computer backups the best way to back up all your data? There can be downsides to these backup options — the biggest negative is you are likely to keep your computer and your portable hard drive in the same location.

If there is theft and you lose both, you lose your data. The same thing happens if there’s a fire. If you regularly store your hard drive elsewhere — like a weather- and fire-resistant safe, it would be more secure, but how many people do that every day? And you have to remember to keep your hard drive plugged in to your computer, or it can’t back up your files.

Backing up to the cloud

Like the cost of portable hard drives, online storage space has fallen rapidly. Cloud storage services such as Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive use bank-level security and encryption. Unless you leave your password lying around, you should not have to worry about anyone gaining access to your data.

Google Drive offers a 2 TB storage plan for just $99.99 a year, which is more than enough for almost any agent or broker to back up their PC or Mac. Dropbox Plus offers a 1 TB storage plan for $99 a year. Microsoft OneDrive offers 6 TB bundled with Office 365 Home for six users or 1 TB for each user for $99 a year. OneDrive’s biggest appeal is its backup protection comes with online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note for a PC or Mac computer, tablet or phone.

Backing up to the cloud with any of these services is relatively straightforward: you have to go through a menu-drive setup process, and then your device can be set to sync with these services automatically. If you are almost always connected to the internet, you also could use your cloud storage service to act as your primary hard drive, freeing up storage space on your computer. If you do this, you gain access to all your main files from any computer, not just your own.

Like backing up to a portable hard drive, backing up to the cloud has its pros and cons. In addition to being secure, data backed up to the cloud is stored off-site and redundantly, so you don’t have to worry about the impact of a theft or fire. And the backup process is getting easier, faster and again, less expensive.

The key downside to Cloud storage is you must be online. That isn’t always possible when you’re hosting an open house without internet access. Hotspots help solve this problem, unless an you can’t get a reliable cell signal from the open house, and that renders access to the cloud impossible during that time.

Speed is the other big issue when recovering a backup from the cloud. If you have to restore a computer backup that contains a large amount of data from the cloud, it will take a lot longer than a portable hard drive — and require more patience. If you have data limitations from your internet provider, this could also impact your real costs, speed or both. Some internet providers limit your total monthly data use, ratcheting down your speed when you exceed certain limitations. Cloud storage could add significantly to your data use.

One more option: online backup services

While you can use Google Drive, Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive to back up your devices, there are specialized backup services online. Their only function is to back up your data online.

The most well-known services are Carbonite and Backblaze. For $60 a year to use Backblaze, all of your data is backed up by default, so the setup process is automated. The service runs in the background with an internet connection. There’s no storage limit, and that means unlimited backs. Backblaze also can be used with a portable hard drive to back up your data if you want to do both. It even saves copies of your deleted files so you can retrieve them later.

Carbonite also offers automatic, unlimited online backup through a series of tiered plans based on how long you subscribe and how much protection you prefer. Carbonite’s basic plan is $72 a year with unlimited Cloud backup. 

The biggest downside for these online services remains speed if you only back up online.

Bottom line

Your client data is too important not to automate backing up your computer at least daily. If you also want to protect the priceless photos and videos you took on your favorite vacation that are on the same computer, your investment and time are minimal when you consider it protects you from a lot of potential pain and suffering if you lose your data.

Before your backup, consider some spring cleaning to clear your hard drive of clutter and unneeded files.

This contributing article is from the Tech Helpline, a service of the WRA.

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