Backup computer data

Last revision February 4, 2015

Security safeguards:
  1. Minimize network presence
  2. Using strong passwords
  3. Install security patches regularly
  4. Backup computer data
  5. Encrypted login
  6. Network firewall
  7. Switched ethernet

Your final line of defense against damage caused by a hacker or other computer failure is to have good backups of your data files. In some cases, a hacker will deliberately or accidentally erase the files from your disk. Your whole computer could be lost or stolen. Or your disk could suffer a hardware fail, causing loss of data. You could be in serious trouble if the only copy of your research data, latest paper, thesis, or grant proposal was among the lost files.

The School of Earth Sciences provides free backup services for its faculty, staff, researchers, and graduate students.

If you are not eligible for the School's backup services, you can take independent steps to protect yourself.

You can purchase an external hard drive to use as a backup device for your computer. Just remember to connect it to your computer often so your backup program can work! Apple Macintosh computers have a built-in backup program named Time Machine that is very effective at maintaining backups of your files, including previous versions, on an external disk. Most external hard drives also come with backup programs designed to work on Microsoft Windows PCs.

If you are an undergraduate student in Earth Sciences, you can ask the system managers to create a personal "home share" for you on the School's high performance file server named You can store up to 10 Gigabytes of files in your home share. Use this home share to keep copies of your important data and files. In fact, if you work primarily on campus, file server access is fast enough that you can keep the master copy on the server and work on it directly from your computer.

Another simple defense for your most important data and files, such as your thesis draft, is to buy a USB flash memory stick which you periodically connect to your computer and copy over your essential files. As of the date of this note, four gigabyte sized flash memory sticks are available from discount retailers for as little as $5. But don't make the mistake of a student that was publicized in the Stanford Daily. She kept her backup flash memory stick in the same case as her laptop and both were stolen. She had no other copies of her senior thesis. Keep this essential backup separate from your computer!

There are also internet based backup services that you can use to automatically backup files from your personal computer for free or a small fee. For example, check the services described in this recent MacWorld article.

There are many options for backup. The important thing is to start a backup program now!

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