Computer Care: Cloud is OK, but rely on spare backups
POSTED: December 29, 2012 1:00 a.m.
The cloud is up there somewhere on the Internet, out in an intangible place you can’t put your finger on, and although it can’t be seen, has become a popular locale for computer data storage.
This Internet storage alternative is on a computer not unlike your own. It’s not some magical storage haven where everything is secure. On the contrary, it may not be any safer than your computer. Some cloud-based services offer multiple backups for security while others may not, so caveat emptor.
The cloud is the Internet. The name comes from the flow-chart diagram that describes computers. The symbols denoting the Internet are drawn as clouds, thus the name.
The Internet is comprised of computers, lots of them. Some are used for storage, others for different services. When you do a Google search, check your email, pay a bill online or view a YouTube video, you are accessing a computer somewhere on the Internet.
Use the cloud for storage, but store your data on various local media as well, including external drives and optical discs. I’m an advocate for redundant backups. It’s unwise to put all of your apples in one cart.
Placing your data on the cloud raises the issue of security. The more information of yours that is out there, the easier it is for you to be hacked.
Google, eBay or Facebook already has lots of information about you and a clever hacker can gain access to them via nefarious methods from a courteous customer service agent. Armed with a bit of information, more can be had. Hackers may be able to use information obtained from one of your accounts to gain access to another.
By the time hackers contact the support desk at your Internet Service Provider, they probably have enough information to hack your cloud storage or your online bank accounts.
Outside access to your Facebook account may cause you grief by having things posted in your name, but access to your cloud account could wipe all of your family’s photos or your company’s spreadsheets. Access to your bank account could wipe you out, period.
I’ve said this before, but know your passwords; make them strong; change them regularly and don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. If a hacker gains access to one account, he then gains access to many or all of them, your cloud account included.
Whatever data you value should be backed up and then backed up again. If you don’t, your data may disappear one day. When I have to erase a client’s hard drive to reinstall Windows, I inquire if they have a backup in place; most times they say they don’t. Many have good intentions of making copies of their important data, yet most procrastinate.
My data backup system includes the use of external USB hard drives. A conventional hard drive has a life expectancy of about five years. I’ve had some last much longer, but why gamble with valuable data?
The trick to longevity with external drives is to only power them up when copying or retrieving data. To keep them turned on whenever your computer is on defeats the purpose of having one. It will die the same time the drive in your computer does.
Optical disks such as CDs are good for backup of a few dozen files, as are DVDs for more data duplication, but those types of media can scratch easily, rendering them unreadable.
USB flash drives, like the ones on your keychain are also good, but usually top out at 16 GB. They have a limit as to how long they’ll last, measured in read/write accesses, not in time. They max out at about 100,000 accesses, although I’ve had some stop long before that for other reasons.
I’m not anti-cloud, but I believe it shouldn’t be your sole source for duplicating your data. Spread it around. Every method has its downside. Use a few of them and pray that some still work when you need them. The cloud is a viable alternative, but makes for a good secondary or tertiary storage facility.
The cloud-based services I use are more for file sharing than for file storage. In my Dropbox account, I create a folder where I place photos that I want to share with others. Then I simply send them the link to that folder, instead of a bunch of images.
So what if the Internet is down, leaving you without access to your cloud-based data when you need it? What if your account gets hacked or what if the service you use gets hacked or crashes?
These are some reasons why I’m an advocate for data redundancy. Back up your backups. The cost is minimal, as is the time it requires. One day when you determine that your online storage out in the cloud has been compromised, you’ll be glad you put forth the effort to create a local ground-based backup as well.
Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and online.