For a backup strategy plan, remote access, and sharing of your files, we explore more private and encrypted alternatives to popular cloud storage services. In this first of a two-part series, we analyze the limits of using a local external hard drive as a private local backup strategy.
If you work using your employer’s facility, you probably have a professional system to take care of your backups and remote access. For your personal files or your independent work from home or small business, if you create or download files – including Microsoft Office documents, PDF files, photos, or audio/video files – on your personal computer or mobile device, we hope that you already back them up to protect yourself from loss. But we recommend you consider possibly changing your backup strategy plan with security of your data and your privacy in mind, and for the potential additional benefits of remote access (the ability to access your files from any device or computer over the internet) and file sharing (the ability to provide designated individuals access to selected files).
There are several approaches to a backup strategy plan
and optionally remote access by you or by others with whom you wish to share files:
Back up files locally to an external hard drive or thumb drive (covered in this post)
Back up files by using cloud storage, preferably the encrypted kind for privacy (see next post, Part 2, Cloud storage account)
Back up files locally using "network attached storage" (NAS, a/k/a "personal cloud," see next post, Part 2)
Use two of these methods
In this first post of a two-part series, let’s examine the first of these options.
1. Backup strategy plan #1:
Back up files locally to an external hard drive or thumb drive
As your backup strategy, you may opt to back up to an external hard drive or thumb drive in your home or office, as you may be wary of entrusting your files to a cloud storage service. This can be done as your sole backup strategy (not recommended, for reasons outlined below) or as a redundant backup (recommended) to online "cloud" storage or NAS storage, both discussed in the next blog post, part 2 in this series. Although you could back up to an external drive manually by periodically dragging/dropping recently created/changed files to an external drive, doing so would be tedious and require discipline to perform regularly and prevent omissions. Instead, if you opt for a local backup, note the following recommendation:
Use a backup software tool
Recommendation: use a backup software tool that backs up all changed files in the folders you specify and does this on a regular schedule. Preferably use this backup redundantly to the use of encrypted cloud storage or NAS (both detailed in Part 2).
Reviews of Windows backup software can be found, for example, in the following articles:
PC World’s The best Windows backup software
PC Magazine’s The Best Backup Software
Lifewire’s 34 best free backup software tools (review of free tools)
Mac users are fortunate to have the Time Machine backup tool.
We, for example, use Norton Backup (in addition to an encrypted cloud storage service), which came pre-packaged with Norton Security anti-malware bundle.
We recommend that you set your backup automated schedule to backup nightly.
Some backup software offerings support both a local backup and a cloud backup option
Unlike NAS or cloud storage (see next post, Part 2), a local backup alone without networking or remote access (the ability to access files over the internet while away) hinders the ability to share files with others.
Offsite copy of backup
The reason we would not rely solely on a local backup – and instead use a second method in parallel – is that if the external backup drive is located near your computer, in the event of a burglary, fire, or water damage, it would likely be stolen or destroyed along with your computer. If you opt solely for local backups, we recommend placing a thumb drive or other backup device regularly off site, that is, in a location away from your computer. This backup copy contains a snapshot of your files on a particular date. Continue regular backups on a second device at your computer and regularly rotate use of at least two devices so that your offsite copy is never too old.
External drives for backups
Some examples of leading vendors of external drives or high-capacity thumb drives that you can use for a local backup are as follows (Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases):
SanDisk Cruzer 256GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive (thumb drive)
Some examples of leading vendors of backup software are as follows:
Norton 360 Deluxe (a bundle of local or cloud backup, anti-virus, VPN, and other security software)
Our next blog post will examine the use of cloud storage for backup and remote access and the use of NAS from a privacy perspective
If you use solely a local backup and have no remote access needs,
use automated backup software rather than manually copying changed files to a thumb or other kind of drive
be sure to rotate a redundant backup regularly to an off-site location
See next blog post (encrypted cloud storage account) for privacy-oriented cloud storage and another strategy, NAS