- Time & Money


   - How much

   - What to back up

   - Gathering it in

   - How often


   - Where to look





The Trade-offs 

Time & Money


How much


What to back up


Gathering it in


How often



The myth: 
"If we install top end firewalls, backup regularly, and don't allow file sharing, we're safe."

The truth:
Remember - 
All systems fail; the only question is when.

The measures:
Choose wisely 

  1. what to attempt to prevent, 
  2. what to back up and when, 
  3. how to store it safely, 
  4. and be ready to re-install.

First consider seriously how much data you canNOT afford to lose. Then figure out how thoroughly you can arrange to safeguard it, and how to get it back when it gets corrupted or disappears altogether.

Define "afford" for yourself. There are financial costs and emotional ones.

You probably can stand a little heartache and you can spend a certain amount of money, but it helps to have envisioned a reasonable response before the fact. 

An honest answer to how much of your data you need to be able to recapture will vary enormously between users and is bound to lie somewhere fairly far into the middle ground between the extremes of  "all of it" (oh come on!) and "none of it" (why were you saving it to begin with?) 

Yes, it's depressing to suffer losses, but they occur as regularly with computers as mechanical problems do with cars, so plan on it -- and no utter martyrdom allowed!

When you've been hacked or flooded out or you've done something as simple yet deadly as having tripped and dragged the computer to the floor with you (don't laugh - it happens!) you need to be able to go through the usual stages of gnashing your teeth, swearing revenge, and considering beefing up future security... but most of all you need to get up and running again - NOW!

"The best revenge is a happy life." 
-Gayle Westrate

The Trade-offs - Time & Money

In today's world we try to secure our belongings in a balanced way. We don't want to be "insurance poor", having incessantly tithed major amounts of our net worth to the gods of "what if", but we also don't want to have to start over from nothing with nothing, if a real disaster occurs.

Our online possessions raise the same concerns. 

If your computer is never connected to the internet, its contents are still not absolutely safe.  Electrical spikes can utterly destroy your system, friendly and unfriendly visitors and your own personal vagaries on a rough morning can wreak havoc, and even if you live in a fortress you're still stuck with the ultimate truth: magnetic medium itself is prone to breaking down over time.

The ultimate security? Back it up.

And consider paper. Print-outs and handwritten.

If you're dealing in sales, frankly, you'd be a fool to let anyone talk you into a "paperless office". 
Be sure your employees do keep small, simple, old fashioned paper notes on what contacts they've made. If the system crashes at 2pm they'll be able to reconstruct the business of the past five hours. Would they be able to do that from their memories alone?

Large companies spend a fortune on precautions, some changing passwords several times a day. In such companies, employees with need-to-know carry pager-like devices that produce the new codes in a convoluted technique of randomization that would do credit to the minds of wartime encryption experts. 

While there are many clever schemes around to thwart security breaches, please notice that even the most major corporations do get broken into, do acquire viruses, do lose valuable data. 

What they finally all have to resort to (and you do too) is spending a certain amount of time and money not on fail-proofing their systems but on backing up their data and storing it safely. 

Storage - How much 

Storing it safely may simply mean getting it printed out onto paper, but consider whether you might ever have to type it all in again by hand some day.

A step up from that is to get it copied off from your computer onto tape or a series of 3" diskettes or a writable CD. 

For a large company, or even a priceless personal collection, safe storage is likely to involve at least three levels of storage -- 

1. copies that are kept on premises

2. copies that are kept in a separate building or even a bank vault (and rotated regularly)

3. secondary copies, just in case there turns out to have been a physical glitch in the medium that the first set was recorded onto! 

If the building burns down, you'll buy new computers, but what will you put on them if the backup information has burned too?

And what do you do when you go to reinstall and discover that the tape or diskette has a faulty track and won't work after all?

If your system should pick up a virus, you may not notice it right away, so your most recent backups may already be contaminated, and you need to be able to go to an earlierarchive for a clean one.

Only you can decide the trade-offs, however it's actually not at all unreasonable to keep double and even triple backup materials. 

But you don't have to backup the programs themselves, just the data you generate!

Storage - What to back up

Recognize that the material on your computers divides into three foundational types: 

1. the computer's operating system (eg. Windows) 

2. the programs installed on it (eg. AOL as a browser, MS Word for word-processing, etc) 

3. the data (your accounts, your correspondence, your graphics, etc ...the material you generate)

The operating system and the programs are almost certainly available to you on disk or CD, and you have them tidily filed along with their warranty information and the instructions -- right beside that of the hardware (computer, printer, scanner, etc) ...right? 

So the first two categories are already backed up and they don't change (except to come out as newer versions); you don't need to back them up any further, just be able to lay your hands on the originals and re-install

And, of course, you could obtain copies of the programs and the operating system from their vendors if you should happen to damage any of that material - or mislay it.

But the third foundational type, your data, is stored ONLY when and where YOU have backed it up.

Storage - Gathering it in

This should suggest to you that you really don't want your data scattered all over the hard drive.

But programs themselves are generally designed to store the data they've worked on each in their own program area by default -- after all they don't know what other arrangements you'll have made. 

Create for yourself a filing area that is nothing but data, so you can grab it all in one logical sweep.

Windows comes with a folder called My Documents which is for exactly this purpose. Under this you can create a series of sub-directories - just as if you were arranging manila folders in a series of drawers in a steel file cabinet. 

If you ALWAYS save ONLY within these folders, then you can easily back up all your data in just one step, by backing up the master folder (My Documents).

Best of all, the data will be in your archived tape or CD in exactly the pattern you already recognize.

Storage - How often

Rational business back up involves a daily backup of new data, and a weekly backup of data -- which,  remember, is then removed from the premises! 

Companies that have proprietary software designed just for them tend to back that up as well, usually monthly or quarterly

Consider too, that if a virus should gain access it's valuable to have a close series of very recent backups to help show WHEN it got in. 

Security warnings

There are several official sources for updates on potential threats to computer security such as viruses and hacker activity.

Arguably the best of these are the CERT advisories

You should also occasionally (or quite regularly if you're running a business) check the home pages of each of your hardware and software providers.

You should ESPECIALLY be checking the home page of your virus checking software for updates on a weekly basis.

If you think a virus warning is worth passing on, PLEASE check its legitimacy YOURSELF even if it came from your best friend or your own mother.

Include within your own letter the URL (http address) of the official group issuing the advisory, and encourage the people you choose to email to check it THEMSELVES before they send it on.

If you ever pass on bogus warnings or chain letter jokes to 10 people, threatening them that they each must pass it on to 10 more or they'll have a year of "bad luck", it will NOT bring you either luck or love - more likely your karma will be in trouble because you're actually helping to create a sort of virus yourself !

After all, a virus is by definition an out of control organism that takes over the function of normal cells and keeps on reproducing itself until it clogs up the whole system. 

Bandwidth issues

There are really two issues here, the practical and the moral. 

Morally, the unnecessary use of bandwidth is comparable to leaving all your house lights blazing just because your electric bill isn't too high for you, personally, to pay. 

In our culture, we all realize that using excessive amounts of electricity strains the extant system, forces more generating plants to be built in order to maintain a margin of safety, and heads more rapidly toward the day when all this planet's quite finite petroleum reserves are depleted. Alternative fuel for the power generating plants may --or may NOT-- be feasible as fast as that deadline is approaching.

What the casual new user of computers tends not to recognize is the limitations of cyber bandwidth.

Bandwidth is simply the amount of signalling that can be done over the existing cables, phone lines, and airwaves. 

From a practical standpoint, there is a specific limit to the amount of "traffic" that the "Information Superhighway" can carry at a time.

Bandwidth is increasing, yes, but barely in keeping with the additional number of people coming on line every month - every day!

Your own responsible actions help encourage awareness in the people you contact. 

Welcome to the cyber community!