Business and Consumer Tips 1.3: The Importance of Backing Up

Posted by Richard McKenzie on 12 December 2017

Graphical representation of computer backups

Imagine this: your computer has just crashed, turned off with no explanation. You turn it back on only to discover your operating system won’t boot — perhaps the hard drive has failed, or perhaps malicious software has infected your computer, corrupting or locking up your data. Whatever the cause, your data is now inaccessible and potentially gone for good.

How much data would you lose? Would you be able to recover with a recent backup, losing only a few days or hours of work? Or would you forfeit potentially years of important data — data which plays a vital role in daily our lives? Whether through technical hiccup or through malicious attack, backups have never been more important, yet many of us still do not have an effective backup regime in place. Here's everything you need to know to get one implemented now.

Shower, Brush teeth… Data Backup

A backup isn’t just a physical item, it’s a regime to ensure the health of your data and should be as routine as brushing your teeth is for your personal health. An effective backup regime is more than just an external drive connected to your computer with a few documents on it. It should be made up of complete and regularly updated copies of all your important data. Surprisingly, this is not as difficult (or expensive) as it might sound.  

Backing up with Windows 10 and MacOS

The major computer operating systems, Windows 10 and MacOS, conveniently offer built-in backup functionality. There are also third-party programs available, although the integrated options are sufficient for most non-enterprise users.

On Windows 10, a feature called File History backs up your non-system files. As standard, it creates backups of your personal folders (like My Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures etc), with other folders able to be included or excluded. As long as the backup drive is connected, Windows will backup the selected files and folders every hour, or at an interval selected by the user (see below for why an always-connected backup drive isn’t the best idea). For more advice on using File History, see this support article (while you’re at it, make sure Automatic Updates are switched on…this is a vital line of defence against malware).

If running MacOS, there’s the ubiquitous Time Machine, which also creates incremental backups of your data on an external drive. Unlike Windows’ File History, however, Time Machine backs up all non-system files stored on the computer. Just like Windows, if you keep your backup drive connected, Time Machine will back up your data incrementally every hour. It’s straightforward to configure, and Apple has written step-by-step instructions to guide users through the process.

While these in-built solutions are good, there's more to a backup regime than just having single duplicate of your data.


A single copy of your data, such as those created by Time Machine or File History might help you in the event of a computer crash, but it won’t help you in extreme situations such as your house being burgled or even burning down. Similarly, if your computer is infected with malware such as ransomware, and your single backup drive is connected to the computer at the time, there’s a high probability the malware will encrypt your backup drive too.

The best practice for creating an effective backup regime is to follow the 3-2-1 Rule. Developed by photographer Peter Krogh in his DAM Book, this simple rule stipulates THREE copies of your data on TWO different mediums, with at least ONE copy offsite.

In this age of cheap hard drives, there is almost no excuse not to follow this practice. Depending on how much data you have to backup, two mediums may be the most difficult part of the rule to follow. When Krogh first conceived of the 3-2-1 Rule in 2005, he recommended storing data on hard drives and optical media disks. As the volume of our personal data has increased, and optical media declined in use, media such as CD-Rs and DVD-Rs have become an impractical option for data backup. You can get around this by using different brands of one medium, such as a hard drive. This guards against potential defects which may affect a particular batch of drives. Cloud storage options are also becoming more affordable, although this has limited use with the slow upload speeds many Australian internet users face. For storage offsite, it can be as simple as keeping a copy in your desk at work, or at a friend’s or relative’s house.

Data backup need not be a chore, and with the cost of storage cheaper than ever, there really is no excuse not to have an effective backup regime in place. In addition to keeping your data safe from technological tragedy, regimes like the 3-2-1 Rule are the best defence against malware such as Ransomware. Give the 3-2-1 Rule a go and you might find yourself sleeping easier knowing your precious data is about as safe as it can be.