How I backup my data and secure my devices

Recently, my mom almost lost her iphone, without a backup. And I’ve been backing up my work files. It’s really terrible to lose everything on your computer because of hardware failure, or theft. And, in 2017, totally avoidable. Most of the things I’m mentioning below are free and easy. They will save you a ton of grief when the inevitable data loss occurs. You can probably set it all up in two hours.

Devices: I use a macbook pro and an iphone, and an OWC external hard drive. Most of these solutions will work for any device. For some device specific ones like icloud backup, android/windows will have an equivalent function. If you google “backup for android” or “time machine for windows” you should find the equivalent.

Backing up computer data

The general principle is to have a local backup and an offline backup. Here’s how I set this up.

Local backup: Time machine + external hard drive. This is very easy to setup on a mac.

  1. Acquire an external hard drive. I use OWC drives, and love them: https://eshop.macsales.com/shop/external-storage
  2. Plug your drive into your computer. Open time machine preferences in settings. Select the external hard drive as your backup location.
  3. You’re done! Just make sure to plug in the drive periodically.

Why do this? –> If your computer crashes, you can easily revert to a working version using time machine. This also works for file deletion. And if something goes wrong with your online backup, you at least have a copy.

Note: You may want to do other things with your drive apart from backups. In that case, you can partition the drive in two. You can do this in Disk Utility on your mac. Make sure the time machine backup drive is at least the size of your computer, and preferably 3x the size.

Online Backup – Backblaze: This is my favourite online backup service. It costs $5 per month, and backs up everything. If you buy the yearly plan, it only costs $50 per year.

  • Lose your computer?
  • Dump a bucket of water on your computer?
  • Burn your house down, and computer with it?

Backblaze has you covered. You can restore everything from its online file. Signup here: http://backblaze.com/

Backblaze even backs up external drives, though you have to connect them once every 30 days. Backblaze slow? Go into the settings, uncheck “automatic throttling”, and increase the number of threads. This takes up more processing power, but it speeds up backup. I can backup about 150 GB per day, if not more.

Online Syncing – Dropbox: Dropbox is wonderful. It feels like it’s part of the operating system, it syncs so smoothly. You can put your most important files in the Dropbox folder, and they’ll automatically sync to Dropbox’s servers. You can use them from multiple devices, and revert to previous versions.

It’s also free, up to a certain size limit. So you can put important documents here without paying anything. I use this for work though, so I have the $99 plan that gives me a terabyte of synced data.

This is a referral signup link that gets you free space, and gives me free space as well: https://db.tt/pH0Z5RboGp

Iphone backup – iCloud + iTunes: There are two free ways to backups your iphone

  1. Go to icloud settings. Turn on online backup. You may need to purchase space to get a full backup, it’s about $1.50 per month. Why do this? It backs up automatically, which is great.
  2. When you plug in your iphone to your computer, you can manually do an iTunes backup. This is a bit more complete than an iCloud backup. The downside is you have to remember to do it. But it’s a good idea to do this periodically.

Theft obstruction

Laptop stolen? Nothing you can do, right? Actually, there’s a free tool that can do quite a bit for you. It’s called the Prey Project. It’s open source, so you can (within reason) trust it.

They changed their pricing to emphasize the paid plans, but if you look below those, there’s still a free plan here: https://www.preyproject.com/

What does prey do? It installs an app to your computer or phone. And then if your phone is missing, you can report it as missing within Prey. Prey will then:

  1. Broadcast it’s location so you can track where your device is
  2. Start taking pictures of the user via the camera

It’s a good idea to have a guest account on your computer. This will let the thief log in, and allow prey to be activated. If the can’t use your computer, they might not connect to wifi.

Prey won’t stop a smart thief, but by the odds your device will be stolen by a dumb thief. Prey gives you excellent tools to go to the police with.

Password Security/Two factor authentication.

This is the big one. I have about 400 online accounts. This is higher than average, since I run a business. But I’m guessing you have at least 50 online accounts, and at least 10 of those are important (Facebook, email, bank, etc.)

And I’m guessing you repeat passwords and login emails across accounts. Which means that if your login info has been revealed in a breach, all of your accounts are compromised.

Further, your email is probably where all your password reset emails go. So if someone gets your email, they get everything.

What to do about this? Two things:

1. Password Manager

I like 1password. This lets you easily generate strong, unique passwords for each site, and then login with them easily. On an iphone you can use touchID with it, and instantly signin to most accounts.

If you use this, then it’s impossible for more than one of your sites to be compromised in a breach.

2. Two factor authentication

This adds a second layer to logins. When you log into a two factor service, you then need a second piece of information to login. Example:

  1. Log into email with password
  2. Email service then texts you a SMS code that you enter.
  3. Only then can you login.

This will prevent most hacks. All you need is to have your phone with you when logging in. In case you lose your phone, you can also generate backup codes. You can store these in your password manager – they let you login even without if you can no longer access your two factor codes.

SMS (text message) is the most common backup method. But while it’s good, it’s not the best method. Text messages can be intercepted. The best method is via a physical token, or an app such as Google Authenticator.

Google Authenticator is free. With this app, you generate codes that are simultaneously generated by the online service for authentication. To login, you open the app and enter the current code.

This is the best service to use for your email, which is the most important link in your security chain, since it controls password resets for everything else.

That’s all I can think of. I’m not a security expert, but I think this is a fairly good regime for someone not facing any specific security or dataloss threats.

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