Cloud Storage as Prevention for Virus Infection

For the past number of years, I have used Dropbox as my primary cloud storage for my most important and frequently used files. Even though Dropbox only gives you 2 GB of free space, I was able to earn more free space by referring friends and family. This had brought me to a total of 22 GB of space. This was plenty of space to store documents and other files. I have Dropbox installed on several computers and mobile devices and it’s all kept in sync between them. Recently Dropbox made a change to their free tier allowing only 3 devices to be used. They did say that current users can keep their existing devices but I knew that over time this would eventually become an issue for me. Since I subscribe to Microsoft Office 365, I decided that this was the right time to move all of my Dropbox files to OneDrive.

Microsoft Office 365 is a way to license the full office suite, ie Word, Excel and others. You pay an annual fee to use these services. For our family, the 5 user license makes sense. What really makes this a solid deal is the inclusion of OneDrive accounts for each user, each with 1 TB of storage space. I had been using OneDrive as one of my photo and video backup locations, but now decided to take the leap and move all of my cloud storage there.

Moving My Files

I decided to move files a bit at a time to see that they were properly syncing up in OneDrive. I have only a few folders in the root of my Dropbox account, such as:

  • Archives (genealogy data)
  • Current Files
  • Documents (bills and statements)

I decided to move one and watch what happened. The process worked flawlessly and I quickly saw the files appear in my online OneDrive account. I made sure that all computers I use with Dropbox and OneDrive were powered on so that each would get synced up as I went through the moving process. I also checked my other online backup service to make sure that all of the Dropbox files were backed up in case of any issues.

A Warning from Dropbox

One of the more malicious viruses out there is ransomware. Your files can get infected if you open an attachment that causes all files to be overwritten with garbage data. Some of these give you an option to pay a ridiculous “ransom” to get your files back. One of the warning signs would be that thousands of your files cloud service suddenly get changed or deleted. Well, I discovered that Dropbox checks for this. Shortly after moving the first set of files, I received this email from Dropbox

a helpful warning from Dropbox

In this case, I knew that these files had been deleted from my Dropbox account since I moved them to OneDrive. It is reassuring to know that if this had been a real virus, I could have easily retrieved all of these files. I did some research and determined that OneDrive also has ransomware protection.

Knowing that my files are further protected against a virus by being in OneDrive or Dropbox is additional reassurance that they are kept safe. Like I’ve said before, this type of service, coupled with backups at home and to other online services will help to keep your files safe, even if bad things happen to them.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Instant Recovery from a Hard Drive Crash

Imagine this nightmare… you’re working on a large business report and with just a few more finishing touches to go, and you suffer a hard drive crash. Everything is gone and you have to explain to your client why you won’t have the report ready. Wouldn’t it be great to have near instantaneous recovery from this sort of disaster?

explosion over beach

With sufficient preparation you can recover and get back to work with either minimal or no loss of data. We need to change our view of our computers as a single point of failure / critical device to that of a simple appliance. If your coffee maker breaks, you might not be happy to have to replace it, but you can go out and buy a cup of coffee, get a new coffee maker and be back up and running very soon. By treating your computer as a replaceable and disposable device, it changes the way that you are able to work.

Separate your data from your computer

Right now you may have a bunch of documents and spreadsheets in a folder. Another folder has pictures and videos while your email has been downloading and getting stored on your computer for years. In previous posts I talked about moving your email to the cloud and I talked about the topic of cloud based files too.

Using Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive allows all of your critical files to be kept both on your computer and in the cloud. Going back to the earlier example, if your report is stored in Dropbox then every time you save the file it gets uploaded to Dropbox. With Google Docs, it is automatically saved every few minutes. If you are on a plane or somewhere that you don’t have internet access, sync services like Dropbox let you keep working normally and then will sync up once it has an internet connection.

Email if kept in Gmail or Outlook.com means that you don’t have a dependency on your computer. You can still have it download a copy that stays in sync with the online version.

With prices for online storage coming down, you can pay about $100 a year for 1 TB or more of storage. This can store most picture and document collections so that all of your precious memories are securely backed up online.

Making an Instant Recovery from a Crash

So now that you’ve got everything protected, what do you do when disaster strikes and your computer crash makes working impossible? The price of computers has come down substantially. Even a very basic laptop can be had for under $300. I have discovered an excellent source of high quality and powerful computers is the refurbished market. One example is Dell. Numerous companies lease computers for 3 or 4 years at a time. Once the lease is over, the computers go back to the manufacturer. In the case of Dell, they have an online store to sell these. Check with your country, in Canada it is dellrefurbished.ca. I have bought several laptops and desktops from Dell Refurbished and have been very pleased with the results. As an added bonus, they have sales several times a year so be sure to do an online search for “Dell Refurbished coupon code” to save up to 50%.

So where am I going with this? If you buy a refurbished computer, then you have a standby ready to go at a moment’s notice. If it’s a laptop, you can order it, set it up with what you need, such as Dropbox and your favourite software. Put it away and then you have it ready to go. As far as insurance goes, this is a good option, especially if your livelihood relies on having a working computer.

life insurance

With computers, it’s not a case of if it will fail but when. Having a strategy where you don’t have to think about protecting your files from a crash is the way to a fast recovery. We buy insurance for our lives, cars and our health, so with the same way of thinking, we can insure our data.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Microsoft OneDrive as your cloud based file storage

There are many choices when it comes to choosing a cloud based storage provider. A few of the commonly used ones include Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. Until recently, I hesitated to recommend OneDrive as a place for storing your important documents and pictures. Some recently announced changes have caused me to re-evaluate my opinion.

Important to note – what I am talking about today is based on the paid version of Microsoft OneDrive. This is included as part of Office 365 so it can be a very good deal if you use all or even some of the included features. Today when I logged into OneDrive, I was given a few screens telling me about the new features. Let’s look at some of these screens to talk about what this really means for users.

Recover files from Malicious attacks

Ransomware is a particularly nasty type of computer virus. You can become infected if you go to an infected website or click on a link in an email that causes infected code to run on your computer. These ransomware viruses seek out your files such as documents, videos and pictures and replace them with encrypted copies. To recover these means paying huge amounts of ‘ransom’ money to the perpetrators. Now, if you store files in OneDrive, if you get infected, OneDrive will detect this massive amount of file change and will allow you to restore your files to the previous known good ones.

As a side benefit, if you make a change to a file and want to reverse it back, you can manually select one or more files and revert them back to a previous version.

Large amount of storage space in OneDrive

When you subscribe to Office 365, OneDrive is also upgraded from 5 GB in the free version to 1 TB (1000 GB). This is a lot of space to store many documents and even lots of media files like videos and pictures.  I keep a backup copy of all digitized photos and family videos in OneDrive.

Password protection

If you wanted to share a file with confidential financial information using OneDrive, it’s easy enough to share a link by email. This feature password protects the file so that even if someone else found out the link, unless they had the password, they could not see the file.

So why should I choose OneDrive over other cloud based storage?

There’s no ‘one size fits’ all when it comes to online storage. I started subscribing to Office 365 a few years ago in order to get Microsoft Office for myself and my family. A subscription for 5 users costs $110 CDN per year ($70 for one user). This gives you the following:

  • Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Outlook, Access
  • Ad-free Outlook.com email with 50 GB of storage space
  • The above mentioned items for OneDrive

Up until now, I’ve used OneDrive as a secondary storage / backup location for my pictures and videos. I’m now planning to move more of my important documents and other files from a limited sized Dropbox account. The feature that put it in contention is the ransomware recovery. Knowing that I can easily recover from the potentially huge loss of files is major peace of mind. I will add that I still use another online backup service that is strictly for backup of files.

When you consider that 1 TB of storage of leading providers can cost over $100 per year, the package from Microsoft is very compelling. It’s important to evaluate your needs when it comes to online storage so make sure to read the comparison between the products that appear to fit your needs.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Backup vs Sync – a case for both

Everyone knows that they need backup copies of all of their important data, but when it comes time to actually set it up, that’s when most people get confused by what to do so end up doing nothing. Let’s  start by understanding two important concepts – backup and sync.

Backup

Traditional backup software takes a full copy of all data and places it in another location such as an external hard drive or a remote system over the Internet. Backup can also copy only files that have changed since a previous backup. A key feature of backup software is that the backed up files are not easily accessible the way you open a document or a picture that is located on your desktop.

A backup of your entire computer puts the contents into a form that is easily restored if the contents are lost. Backups generally allow you to restore everything or a single file if that’s all you need.

Example of backup software include online services such as Carbonite, Backblaze and IDrive. Backup software for your computer includes programs such as Acronis True Image and Paragon Backup.

Sync

Synchronization or sync files is a process where you keep an identical set of files and/or folders on 2 or more computers. You can even set up a synced folder on the same computer. Syncing can be a manual or automatic process. The act of copying a set of files between 2 computers every day is a sync. There are numerous programs that allow automatic syncing of folders between computers. Unlike backups, a synced copy of a folder is accessible and the files can easily be opened or modified.

Examples of software for sync are Resilio Sync and FreeFileSync. Online services such as Dropbox and OneDrive are also forms of sync.

When should I use backup software?

If you do nothing else, choose an online backup service and have it back up your files. If you suffer any loss of data, even your entire computer, you can get back all of your important files. The same can be done with local backup software that goes to an external hard drive, but remember that if a disaster should strike your home and all you have is an external hard drive backup, you may lose all of your data. The combination of online plus local backup is the ideal solution. The local backup gets used to restore in most cases and the online backup is if the local is broken or a disaster destroys all data in your house.

When should I use sync software?

Let me start by saying that all data protection should start with a good backup program or online service. If you use a service such as Dropbox or OneDrive then all of your files will get automatically synced online. Yes, this is a form of backup, but think about what happens if you get a virus. The online copy will also get infected. Most services like Dropbox and OneDrive will let you restore previous versions of files, but having a proper backup solution in place allows for a more certain restore in case of a virus.

Software such as Resilio or FreeFileSync allows for you to create copies of your files on another computer that you own. Resilio even lets this computer be in another physical location – more on that in a future post.

Here is an example that shows where you might use sync software. Let’s say you have a desktop and a laptop and while working at home you might switch between these computers. A synced folder of documents means that you can work on whichever computer you want and the files will be kept in sync. A service like Dropbox can perform this sync or a local program like Resilio will keep it in sync without using the cloud.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot more to say on the topic of backup and sync. In future posts, I will talk about other use cases, including a way to sync all of your home computers together and then set up one backup from a single computer.

What types of backup and sync are you currently using?Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

My computer crashed and I lost no data

With the tools available today for backing up and syncing data, there is no reason for data to be lost when something bad happens to your computer. A recent story about a friend of mine illustrates this well.

This friend is a lawyer who works from a home office. While spending a few months in Florida, his laptop crashed and required a complete reinstall, wiping out all of his data.

A few years ago, I talked to him about setting up a system where all of his data is safely and securely protected. This involved a few things:

  • cloud based file storage system – in his case, Dropbox
  • migration of email to cloud based – in his case, Outlook.com

All of his current folders with important client data were moved into Dropbox. Dropbox offers a free 2 GB plan but his data was larger than that so he opted for the 1 TB plan at a cost of $129 Canadian ($100 US) per year. The added benefit of using Dropbox is that it syncs automatically between computers so he can seamlessly move between desktop and laptop as needed. Dropbox also has an app for the iPhone / iPad so he can view his documents on these devices when out or when visiting with a client.

Over the last year my lawyer friend also moved his email from one that downloads all email into Microsoft Outlook on his computer to Microsoft’s Outlook.com cloud based email service. Since he also subscribes to Office 365, which is Microsoft Office paid for yearly, he gets an enhanced Outlook.com experience with no ads and additional storage space. It also means that all messages are stored in the cloud, but can also be accessed through Microsoft Outlook on a computer (see previous series about moving email to the cloud)

If you are familiar with Office 365, you’ll know that one of the benefits is 1 TB of space in OneDrive, Microsoft’s answer to Dropbox. You then might ask, why would I tell me friend to pay for both Office 365 and Dropbox? At this time, there is one very important feature that is not available in OneDrive – easy restoration of folders. Let’s say that a ransomware virus goes through your computer and infects your Dropbox files. All of them are wiped out or overwritten with garbage. Dropbox has mechanisms in place to allow the mass restore of a deleted or changed folder. OneDrive forces you to restore file by file. This is fie if you have 10 or even 50 files, but imaging if 5000 files needed to be restored? Until OneDrive updates this feature, my recommendation is to pay for Dropbox or a similar service that offers these recovery options.

In addition to Dropbox, my lawyer friend also uses CrashPlan for business to back up all of his important files, including personal pictures and videos. This extra layer of protection ensures that all of his critical data is protected. The next piece that I will recommend to him is to add an external hard drive to his computer at home that also backups up the above mentioned files. In the case of a restore requirement, it is always faster to restore from a local hard drive instead of from a cloud based service. The cloud service becomes a secondary insurance policy.

The moral of the story here is to always have numerous levels of backup. Computers have become so inexpensive that they can be seen as appliances that are replaced when they wear out. As long as your data is safely protected and backed up, you can quickly get back up and running when disaster strikes.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail