Fresh out of the tax filing season, hugs for everyone who had to wade through that chore. Let's use the momentum to check off another box important for successfully running a business: backups!
Yes, backups to most people are a big snooze. Like other boring tasks, our monkey brain labels the task as low priority. But when was the last time you backed up all your important documents and photos? Last month? Last year? Never?
The task of setting up a good backup system can look time-consuming and, often, intimidating. But it’s neither. Anyone can do it, and everyone should. In less than a half an hour you can have a system that backs up your files automatically.
Good backups are not optional, for a resilient business
There's no guarantee that a single copy of your data will be safe from coffee spills, threat actors (Glossary: threat actor), damage by pet or child, or average hardware failure.
Aside from common life events, businesses and individual users have practical reasons for needing reliable access to files and information.
- Regulatory requirements: keeping certain files for a certain length of time are a requirement for some professional organizations. And for every tax-payer in Canada (Sources: 1).
- Convenience: backups are an easy way to recover older versions of files after unwanted changes, or accidental deletion.
- Damage control: recovering from losing data to hardware failure or ransomware (Glossary: ransomware) needs backups. Law enforcement recommends not paying the ransom－as that doesn't guarantee recovering your data, because well, criminals can lie about giving it back to you. That leaves backups as the preferred option for data recovery.
Data loss causes unavoidable business interruption, which can be minimized or avoided if up-to-date backups are available.
We want our backups to be easy and cost-effective
Your backups can be as easy and cost-effective too.
1. We make our backups automatic
You shouldn't have to think about keeping backups up-to-date.
Backups should be there when you need them. Ideally you never need them! But by the time you wish you had backups, it's too late to start keeping them.
2. We treat all our data as having equal value
We prefer to simplify our backup practices. If we label tax information as high importance and day-to-day documents as low importance, then we waste time deciding which documents will have reliable backups and which will not.
Instead, we backup everything. Storage is cheap, while we save time and effort having to make decisions about which files to backup.
What really is a backup (and what isn't)
Cloud syncing is not backup
Cloud syncing services like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive are not backups－they’re designed for syncing files across devices.
- Cloud syncing tools aren’t cost-effective at backing up your entire computer: Google Drive (through Workspace) charges $15.60 CAD per month for 2TB and Dropbox charges $12.99 CAD. Both of these are more than double the price of what we use for offsite backups.
- Cloud syncing products typically don't let you use a private encryption key: A private encryption key (glossary) ensures that only you and nobody else can access your backup. It's required to keep files confidential private, especially personal documents like tax returns.
A good backup follows the 3-2-1 rule
The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recommend (Sources: 2) the 3-2-1 rule for backups. The rule breaks down to:
- three copies of your data,
- two of which are at the same location location as you, and
- one at a physical location that is different from where your devices typically live.
With this combination of backup copies, you make total data loss unlikely while continuing to have fast access to your backups.
For those of us who have yet to make a properly reliable and useful backup, we maintain easy guides to off-site backup tools we use ourselves.