Lesson on the Importance of Backups

Computer crashes are inevitable, especially if you use or work on your computer daily.  I have had a handful of computer crashes over the years, which can be caused by faulty hardware, faulty software, or just my own personal error in messing in areas of the computer that I shouldn’t be messing with.  In the early days when I had my earliest computers, I really didn’t have much on the computer where the lost was catastrophic.  Computer usage was limited to writing papers, doing engineering work, and playing computer games (yes I was kind of a computer geek back in the day).  In this day and age, many people do so much on their computer that losing all that data can totally affect our daily lives.  Many people do online banking, organize their schedule, manage their budget and finances, do work on their computer, access the internet daily, have thousands of pictures and videos of their recent vacation or of their families, and have important documents such as  tax returns and other relevant data.  That is why backing up your data is critical in this day and age.  We have all been told that, but how often do you back up your data?  For me, I am very risk adverse so that I have more than one means I use in backing up critical files.  And I will discuss below why this is important.

Presidents Day was February 16th which was a federal holiday.  What did I do this president’s day?  Well, my laptop computer decided to not boot up correctly the night before when I turned it on to work on another blog post.   I could not pinpoint the initial issue, but I had just had Window’s 8 do a security software update, which for some reason caused issues with my laptop.   Thus, what was supposed to be a day off home enjoying time with the kids and putting together another blog post for the site became a day trying to restore my computer to a working state while letting my kids run around the house causing chaos and keeping one eye on them.

Although I work cyber security and have a good knowledge of computers, for some reason when my computer crashes, often it turns into a learning experience.    After trying a few things to recover my computer this time including restoring the last saved restore point (which didn’t work), I ended up doing a reset on my HP laptop, which put my computer back to a refresh state where my files were intact, but the applications and software programs would have to be reloaded.   Now I had two possible courses of action, reload all the software and applications that I had on my laptop from online and installation CDs, or use my software backup/recovery tool (the tool I purchased for backup is Acronis).  I have recently did a full system backup of the Hard Drive in January 2015, thus my plan was to restore my laptop to that image, thus would only be missing a couple of weeks effort.  But, my computer was in a state where I had all my working files, so the first thing I did was back up the files currently on the computer to an external hard drive.    So, if things did go wrong with my restore, at least know I still have all my most recent working files.  I also had back up the individual files back on December, so I knew in worse case I would have only lost 2 months of files.  If I would have followed a weekly/continuous backup schedule, the potential loss of work would be further minimized if I was not able to access the files currently on the hard drive.

But, this is where I learned that restoring backup Images from backup software are not always reliable.  Long story short, there are a lot of intricacies with computers.  And during this computer crash I had to learn about the difference between BIOS and EUFI, compatibility of EUFI with certain external hard drives which I had the backup image stored, issues with restoring partitions on solid state drives, and Windows 8 error codes and debugging these issues.  Now the backup file did its job and I have an image of the partition saved.  The issues were getting this image back and running on my laptop, which is still ongoing.  Reading the HP Support blogs and websites, there is an issue with HP recovery manager which many have documented, but no easy fixes were provided.   This fix of my laptop is still ongoing and I am sure I will resolve it soon.   But, I have the comfort of knowing that I have all my user files backed up, and worst case I would have to reload the OS and all the software back onto the computer and then copy my data files back onto laptop

In the meantime, I have a backup computer in which to produce this blog post.  So below is the lessons learned that I am sharing with you given my experience this weekend.

Do backup your computer frequently.  I usually back up my computer in two ways.  First, I back up my important files to an external hard disk often.  Your file backup scheme should depending on the how critical your data is.  If you do a lot of work on your computer, I would recommend daily backups, and at the least weekly backups at a set time.  But, on the other hand if you only use your computer to surf the internet, you may be able to get by with monthly backup of your important files.   I also use Acronis software to do a full partition of my hard drive quarterly.

Create restore points with your computer software:  Microsoft Windows allow you to save restore points which you can recover back to if your computer run into issues.  This would have been valuable if I was able to restore to the last known stable state of the computer software.  But for this instance, I was not able to recover that way.  But, having a regular schedule to save restore points is valuable in preventing you from losing a lot of data if your computer crashes and you are able to restore to the last restore point saved.

If you computer crashes, copy data to external drive if possible.   If your computer crashes and you are able to get your computer to a state where you can access your files, the first thing you should do is to copy the files to an external hard drive.   In this case, it saved me a couple of months of work, which is the last time I did a file backup and the time my computer crashed.

 Make sure you have a recovery disk for your computer.   If you computer crashes, you may need to use this recover disk to fix your computer.  And this recovery disk should be stored in a safe and known location.  Unfortunately in my case, I know I have a recover disk somewhere in the house, but it was misplaced and thus I had to order another one from HP (which costs some money to get).  Thus, I would recommend that you have one location where you maintain all of your software disks and backup media.

Use Belarc Advisor to inventory your computer.   I use the Belarc Advisor Personal PC Audit Software to maintain an inventory of all the software and licenses that you have on your computer.  This inventory will be helpful if you needed to re install all of the programs you have on your software.  Belarc Advisor inventories the license keys for your software which you will need when re-installing software which you have purchased.

Make sure you understand your backup software and it is set up correctly.    I have used Acronis for my software backup needs for the last 10 years and it has saved me at least 5 times when my computer crashed or became corrupt.  But, I have learned not to rely on one single backup image of my backup file, and thus have a redundant backup of all my key files also on a separate hard drive.  With all backup software, there are complications with many different PC configurations, especially when doing full disk or partition backups.  Thus, I recommend doing both a full partition backup and also a backup of all the key files that you have stored.  With your data backed up, if there are issues reloading the partition, at least you can just re-install all of your software packages and applications to get back where you were.  Otherwise, if for some reason the laptop or PC runs into issues re-installing a partition, you still have options besides losing everything.

Don’t let a computer crash ruin your week or cause you a huge amount of stress.  Make sure you have backups of all of your critical data and personal files so that you will be able to easily recover from a computer crash.  I have heard too many friends and family complain about lost data and information due to computer issues.  Hopefully, this post will influence you to back up data regularly.


Jeff (Homecybersifu)

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