For most of us, a lot our lives are stored on our computers: digital pictures, music, reports and movies, but too many of us aren’t doing anything to protect our information.
According to a survey by online backup company Carbonite, 51% of Americans have experienced a computer crash that resulted in them losing all their data. What’s more, 39% admitted they never backed up their computers, or haven’t done so in more than a year.
At the same time, 40% of Americans reported they wouldn’t be able to recover, repurchase or recreate all of their documents and files if their PC crashed. Even among users who are backing up their data, their methods aren’t diligent enough to completely protect their digital data.
“From hurricanes to tornadoes to equipment failure and theft, the unfortunate reality is that bad things can happen to your computer and files,” says Pete Lamson, senior vice president of cloud backup at Carbonite. “Just as you add flashlights and non-perishables to your disaster kits, it’s important to think about protecting your data before disaster strikes.”
Many users rely on external hard drives or flash drives to save their documents in the event of a computer failure. While that is a way to get the data onto another location, experts warn this method isn’t danger free because it’s incumbent on the consumer to make sure everything is backed up.
“Most people buy external hard drives but don’t use it to back up data,” says Gleb Budman, founder and CEO of online backup service Backblaze. “They aren’t religiously copying files from the computer to the external hard drive on a regular basis. At best, they are doing it once a year before they go on a big vacation.”
External hard drives and flash drives can be easily broken or lost, putting information at risk. “Chances are that the last item you will think to grab when evacuating your home is your flash drive or external hard drive,” says Lamson.
Experts say external hard drives and flash drives only make sense for consumers who are disciplined enough to remember to back up their data on a regular schedule and who won’t lose or break the drive.
Another common way many PC users back up their data is to email a copy of their document, picture or video. That works when trying to save a couple items, but it can quickly get unmanageable and time consuming. Not to mention, it can eat up inbox space.
“It’s a great way to make sure that one file is backed up,” says Budman. “The problem is that’s just one file. No one can email themselves every single file.”
Storing data online has grown in popularity as consumers become more comfortable with the cloud. Services like Apple’s (AAPL) iCloud, Google’s (GOOG) Google Drive and DropBox let customers store their data online and easily share items like pictures and documents with others without taking up too much space. But experts say cloud services have limitations since they don’t automatically back data up and can get costly depending on the amount of data.
Another option to keep data protected and backed up is to use an online backup service like the ones offered by Carbonite and Backblaze. According to Lamson, the services can cost less than $5 a month. But keep in mind: the services are only as good as the companies providing them.
Because of that, experts recommend finding a company that has a good track record and has been around for awhile. Users should also look for a company that encrypts the data when it’s being stored and sent in addition to having a contingency plan in place if the data systems were to fail.