Remote backup can help keep your files safe—but it can also make them easier to hack. Let’s find out if remote backup is a useful service or dangerous hype.
The Risks Of Remote Backup
You know your disk drive will fail someday and there’s no way to predict when it will happen. It might not happen until after you trade your computer in for the newest model—or it could happen later today. For this reason, making secure backups is absolutely essential to anyone who relies on their computer.
Making a remote backup seems simple enough. You find the right company, pay them some money, and run their program which backs up your disk drive. But what do they do to keep your data safe?
One company advertises that they use “military grade encryption”. I’ve looked at the details of their service, and they do in fact use the same encryption used by the U.S. military (AES256). But what they don’t tell you is that anyone with the right password can decrypt the files. Whoever controls the password controls your files.
At that company, the passwords are stored in a database. There’s one password for each user’s files. I’m sure they work very hard to keep that database secure, but any hacker who manages to break their security gets access not just to one user’s files, but to every user’s files.
Can you imagine how tempting a target that is for the hacker? The private files of thousands of users, possibly containing thousands of credit card numbers, social security numbers, private photos, emails, and business documents—what profit-motivated hacker wouldn’t work very hard to access all that data?
The Benefits Of Remote Backup
There’s a greater risk facing most users today—the risk of doing nothing. Remote backup makes backups easy, which for most people is more important than protecting their documents from random hackers. After all, the risk of a hacker attack is small but the risk of your disk drive failing is near certain.
Remote backup providers may boast that they have better security than they really do—but in all fairness, they do have great security. Better security, in fact, than most users have on their computers. Most computer users are their own worst cyber security terrorist.
How To Make A Secure Remote Backup
In a remote backup, security comes at the expense of convenience. You need to choose the right remote backup provider and you also need to remember a password. The most secure remote backup provider I could find is Mozy.
Mozy offers a free 2 gigabyte trial plan so you can get started today without any obligation. Paid plans cost $5.99 a month for 50 gigabytes and $9.99 a month for 125 gigabytes. But before you get started, you need to make sure you activate Mozy’s security feature:
During the setup of Mozy’s software, you’ll be asked whether you want Mozy to generate a password for you or you want to make your own password. You need to make your own password—this will prevent your password from being stored in Mozy’s online database where hackers could theoretically get to it. But Mozy will warn you that you need to remember your password because, if you forget it, Mozy won’t be able to recover your files for you.
Let’s repeat that: make sure you remember your Mozy password.
How To Enhance The Security Of Your Remote Backup
Besides using your own password for encrypting your remote backup, you can also make a few changes on your computer to increase the security of your remote backup.
One easy step is to separate secure and private information out of files that don’t need them. For example, Microsoft Outlook stores each email folder worth of email in a different file that gets backed up. If you have private emails and non-so-private emails, make sure all of the private emails get stored in the same folder. Then you can add your own encryption to that folder.
Adding encryption to any file is a great way to enhance its security—but encrypting and decrypting files can be annoying, so you may want to only encrypt older files. For example, if you have some old private files from work, you can create a TrueCrypt folder to put them in. Then you backup the TrueCrypt file which no hacker will be able to access unless you give them your password.
But perhaps the best way to enhance the security of your remote backup is to keep your private files and your not-so-private files separate. You can easily do this by creating two folders. Create one folder for your Mozy remote backup and create another folder for your own personal backup. Backup your personal backup onto a USB flash drive every few days or weeks to keep your files safe.
By keeping your private files offline, you avoid any unnecessary risks of making a remote backup while gaining almost all of the benefits.
Conclusion: Make A Remote Backup Today
Remember that for most people, the amount of information that is useful to hackers is very small—and hackers aren’t going to waste their time going after files which, although perhaps embarrassing, won’t make them any money. By analyzing a hacker’s profit motive, you can easily see that most of your files will be safe on any secure remote backup site.