Computer data security begins with a good backup

If your computer has sustained an attack by viruses or Trojans, and the only way to save it is by doing a complete reinstallation, a full data backup will save much time and trouble. That applies just as much in the case of hardware defects. A good backup forms the basis of a secure system.

Why you should do a backup

  • A data backup protects you from data loss if your hardware is defective – particularly if your hard drive is damaged – or if it has been attacked by malware such as viruses or Trojans.
  • A backup can also be useful if you have accidentally deleted files.
  • If business documents that you need in the event of a tax audit are lost, a backup will protect you from painful sanctions by authorities.

Choose backup media

You need external storage media for a backup, because if you store backup data on the same device as the original, you will lose both data sets if your device is damaged. Basically, you can choose from the following:

  • External hard drives that you connect directly to the computer. 
  • DVDs. To do that, you will need a DVD burner that can write to media.
  • Network-attached storage (NAS) containing one or more hard drives. Storage of this kind costs more than external drives. However, you will get fast returns on your investment if you plan to back up several computers, for example. 
  • Cloud: You also have the option of storing the data directly on the server of a cloud provider rather than using physical media.

Your budget will also influence which option you choose. Particularly in the case of very large quantities of data, a backup to the cloud can quickly get expensive. If you only have one computer to back up, an external drive will be sufficient. While DVDs are very well suited to archiving large data quantities, the costs of handling can make a daily backup expensive. 

Develop your personal backup strategy

Which data do you want to export and back up? It is unquestionably annoying when system data from the operating system is lost due to malware or accidental deletion. But this loss is not as bad as you would think. Either the system has a mechanism for restoring itself to its factory settings or it can be reinstalled online. 
Loss of user data, i.e. all data that you have generated yourself, is more serious. Office documents, photos, videos, e-books – everything that you have collected over time. For this reason, focus on this data during your backup. 
Incidentally, it will also make it easier to search your backed-up data if you are disciplined about filing your data only in folders recommended by the operating system, i.e. user folders. If you do that, you will only need to back up that folder. 

There are various backup methods

  • Full data backup: This backs up all (user) data with each backup, making the full files available. This approach uses the most memory. 
  • Incremental data backup: During this process, you initially run a full backup. After that, only files that have changed since the full backup are backed up. The next increment includes only the data that have changed since the last incremental backup. This saves storage space, and the data backup also takes much less time. 
  • Differential data backup: This, too, is based on a full data backup. After that, only files that have changed since the last full backup are backed up. It is different from the incremental backup in that it always saves all changes to the full data backup, not simply the previous version.

When buying special backup software, you will need to choose between these two types of backup.

Keep backups safe and secure

Security experts always advise us to consider offsite backup. This means that a full backup of all files should be kept in a secure location. That may be a second hard drive that is stored outside your home (at a relative’s or a friend’s). Or it may be an additional backup made to the cloud. While that increases the expense, because the offsite backup has to be updated at regular intervals, it also makes the data safer from data loss.

How to back up your data with operating system functions

The Windows and Mac operating systems have already built in a simple option for backing up your own data. 

How to back up data in Windows 10

  • Click the Windows logo at the bottom left of your screen and choose Settings. 
  • Under Update and Security, click Backup. 
  • Under Add a drive, indicate whether your files should be backed up to an external drive or to a network address. 
  • Starting immediately, the contents of your user folder (C:\User\User name) will be backed up every hour. 
  • The More options menu allows you to change which data should be backed up and how often.

How data backup works in Windows 8

  • Open Settings from Windows by mousing inward from the right-hand edge of the screen or by pressing the Windows key + C key combination. The charm bar appears. Click Search and enter “file history”. 
  • Now click Choose a drive in order to indicate the storage location for your backup. 
  • Then enable the file history by clicking the button marked Turn on. 
  • The backup function now creates a backup of your files that is updated hourly. Use the Exclude folders menu item to determine which files you do not want to back up. Advanced Settings allows you to define the intervals at which your files will be backed up and how long file versions will be kept.

Backing up data in Windows 7

  • Open the Windows 7 Start menu by clicking the Start button or the Windows 7 icon in the taskbar. 
  • Now click the Control Panel entry and System and Security in the next window. 
  • In the view that follows, click the Backup and Restore menu item > Back up your computer. 
  • If you have never used the backup function, you will need to set up the backup first. In this case, click “Set up backup” and enter your Admin password.
  • Select the location for your data backup and indicate which files you would like to back up. 
  • Once you have entered all settings, Windows gives you the option of determining a schedule for automatic backups.

Backups in MacOS with Time Machine


For the integrated backup system of MacOS, called Time Machine, you need an external hard drive or NAS that supports Time Machine.

  • Connect the storage media and open System Preferences on your Mac from the Apple menu.
  • Look for the Time Machine entry. 
  • In the menu that follows, turn on Time Machine and then click one of the data carriers that is offered.
  • After you have selected your storage media, the backup settings are opened. 

By default, Time Machine backs up your entire system with almost all data and settings, including the installed programs. Click Options to indicate whether you want to exclude hard drives, partitions, folders, and individual files from the backup, and if so, which ones.

Further reading