Back It Up

By Eric Mueller

Originally published on July 06 2011 4:00 AM ET

 You think you play it safe: You floss every night. You look both ways before crossing the road. And you bring your seat and tray table to the full upright position before landing. But do you back up your data regularly?

For most people, the answer is no. And with computer crashes, stray viruses, and “operator error” (a polite way of saying “I pressed the wrong key and erased all my files”), it’s smart to be vigilant about having a backup. Luckily, there’s an easy way to back up files without having to buy expensive equipment or software: online backup.

Online backup services work by encrypting your data and sending it over the Internet to their servers, where it’s stored securely. This way, should you lose a file or even your whole computer (it takes just one well-spilled cup of coffee to destroy a hard drive), a copy of your work can be restored from remote servers (a.k.a. “the cloud”). Another advantage of online backup services is that they’re automatic and simple to operate: After installing the software, your backup commences immediately. The initial full backup can take some time (depending on how many files you have, it could conceivably take days or longer to send all of your data up to the cloud), but the services are designed to transmit information when your computer is idle, so immediately after starting with an online backup service, I recommend leaving your computer on all the time until you see that it has everything fully backed up. At that point, the services intelligently monitor your files and only changed files are sent to the cloud, leaving you fully backed up at all times.

The most popular online backup services are Carbonite, Mozy, IDrive and CrashPlan, which start at around $5 a month per computer but have small variations in their specific features. Since every one offers a free trial, explore the options to find the best service to meet your needs.

Picking a Password

The recent spate of hacked sites and stolen passwords had me scared, so I’ve developed a new password strategy that strikes a balance between security and memorability. I now have two passwords: one for the most important sites, another for everything else. I use my high-security password for my bank site, Facebook, and Gmail. They have my most personal information and are well-funded, high-profile sites with a lot of customers and a strong interest in keeping users’ passwords safe.

The other part of my strategy just means I’m no longer using my dog’s name. Instead, I come up with a short, easy-to-remember phrase, like “My boyfriend has very cute eyes.” From the first letter of each word, I get the password “Mbhvce,” and I’m confident nobody will guess that jumble of letters. (For extra security, tack on a number or two.)

I change the high-security password (or both) every few months. It’s a bit of a hassle but worth it. Hacking and theft can still happen, but I know I have a hard-to-guess password for everyday use and an extra-secure one for my key information.