Posey's Tips & Tricks

How To Protect Your Personal Data Against Natural Disasters

Your personal data is just as vulnerable to disk failures and ransomware as corporate data. But right now, there are threats that are more difficult to protect against: wildfires and hurricanes.

Those of you who follow my work know that I write about enterprise backups on a regular basis. In this column, however, I want to do something a little different and talk about some strategies for protecting personal data.

This is hardly a new topic. After all, hard disk failures and ransomware infections have been a persistent threat to personal data for many years. Right now, though, there are threats that are more difficult to protect against. I'm talking about things like wildfires and hurricanes.

Though it may sound obvious, let me begin by making the point that personal data is worth protecting. I know plenty of people who don't back up their personal data because they don't know how or they don't see the need. Even so, personal data is just as susceptible to loss as corporate data. And, of course, we all have data that we would not want to lose. This is true whether we are talking about things like tax returns and financial data or priceless family photos and videos.

Cloud Backups: Yes or No?
So how can you best protect your personal data against threats such as fires or hurricanes? Unfortunately, a conventional backup simply isn't going to cut it. If your residence were wiped out, then your backup is probably going to be destroyed, as well.

The obvious solution to this problem is to back up to the cloud, but doing so might not always be an option. For example, I have dozens of terabytes of personal data (mostly 360-degree and 4K video from my spaceflight training, family outings and that sort of thing). Most consumer-grade backup services won't allow you to protect that much data. And even though there are some services that allow their customers to protect an unlimited amount of data, uploading such a vast quantity of data would be problematic.

If you have a large amount of data to protect and uploading it to the cloud is not an option, then you will have to be a little bit creative. As such, I wanted to share with you a few of the strategies that I have used to protect my own data.

Creative Backup Strategies
One of the first things to keep in mind is that even if uploading all of your data to the cloud isn't an option, it doesn't mean that using cloud-based data protection is not an option. In my case, the bulk of my data is video. Even so, there is other data that needs to be protected, including financial data, e-mail messages and everything I have ever written. Comparatively speaking, that data has a relatively small footprint. As such, I can use the cloud to protect my non-video data.

Another strategy that I have occasionally used is to taking advantage of point-in-time backups. Last year, for example, I found myself in the path of an oncoming hurricane. One of the nice things about hurricanes is that they come with plenty of advanced warning, so I had more than a week to prepare. My strategy for dealing with the hurricane was to create three point-in-time backups. I stored one of the backup copies in a waterproof case in my office and a second copy in a safe. I wasn't trying to guard the backup against theft; rather, I assumed that if my home were to be flattened by a tree, the safe and the backup within it would likely survive. I mailed the third backup copy to a trusted family member in another part of the country that would not be impacted by the hurricane.

Wildfires are tougher to protect against, but they are something that I have been thinking a lot about since this season's fires have become so pervasive and I live in a heavily wooded area. I have seriously considered burying a backup in a waterproof container in my back yard, but the problem with doing so is that although the backup would be protected, it is more or less inaccessible and therefore almost impossible to update.

What I have done thus far is create two go-bags -- one for myself and one for my wife. Both of these bags contain various personal artifacts and are strategically positioned so we can quickly grab them on the way out the door should it become necessary to evacuate. As you have probably already guessed, I am keeping a somewhat current backup in my go-bag on a series of ruggedized external hard drives. Obviously, I hope that I never have to use these bags, but if the worst should happen, then the bulk of my data will be safe. 

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 19-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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