Protection: Backups

Backups are probably not a foreign concept to most of us. Even if we don't keep them ourselves we've heard of them, had that them preached at us, and kicked ourselves for not keeping them when our computer suddenly dies unexepectedly or our phone finds its way into the wash.

To develop good backup habits, first you need to decide how much space you need. If you're only worried about backing up important text files and financial documents, you probably don't need more than a few gigabytes. If you'll be backing up videos and pictures, you'll want something more in the hundreds of gigabytes or few terabytes range.

Next, you'll need to decide how often you need to back up and how far back you need to keep your backups. This will play a part in deciding your storage size. Even if your one-time backup is small, keeping weekly copies can add up quickly. Decide if you want to keep a specific amount of backups (ex: six-month's worth of weekly backups) or just the most recent however-many it can hold (or less), with the oldest ones being deleted to make space for the newest ones.

Third, you'll need to decide if a cloud-based or a local storage solution is better for you. Clouds have the advantage of being safe from local disasters: burgleries, fires, etc. If your home gets robbed or floods, a cloud will probably be unaffected by that. But on the other hand, you do run the risk of data breaches, or the service disappearing one day without warning if you pick a smaller, newer service.

Finally, come up with a system. Windows and Mac have features that allow you to automate the backup process including frequency, which files to include, and where to store them. Mobile devices will have to be backed up manually. These are fine systems to put in place, just remember to make sure your encrypted storage location is unlocked if encrypted so the backup is able to take place. If you decide to manually handle your backups, be sure to set regular reminders so you don't forget.

Using Veracrypt to Secure Your Backups

If your backup solution is a local hard drive, I discussed using Veracrypt in the previous section to encrypt your device. But what if you want to create a secure cloud backup? My first recommendation would be Sync or SpiderOak's One Backup. Both is an end-to-end encrypted services similar to Dropbox. Sync offers a free tier with 5 gigabytes of space, while One Backup costs $6 USD per month for 150 gigabytes of space. However, neither of theses sources are open source. A better solution is to self-host a Nextcloud server (or find a privacy-respecting provider) that's end-to-end encrypted (sometimes called "zero knowledge") so you can control the data yourself on a trust, open source platform. Because Sync and Backup One are not open source and because Nextcloud self-hosting is not always feasible, I will provide a solution for more mainstream services.

Generally speaking, I would advise against using Google Drive, Dropbox, Apple iCloud, or similar services simply because they can see that you have an encrypted container in your storage space, and we don't know if someday they'll decide to take an anti-encryption stance and delete it or your account. Furthermore, Google Drive and Apple iCloud use weak encryption standards in some cases. Sync and SpiderOak, allegedly, can't see your files and therefore is unlikely to be swayed into action based on what's in your account. But if for some reason you decide to stick with another non-privacy-oriented service, here's my suggestion:

First, figure out how much storage you have. Google Drive offers 15 gigabytes for free, Apple iCloud offers 5 gigabytes for free, and Dropbox offers 2 gigabytes for free. Next, make sure you have installed the service's file sync application. This is typically an app that will create a folder on your computer, and that folder acts as a real-time sync between your account and your computer. It's designed to make working directly from the file in your account effortless.

Now open up Veracrypt, select the "Tools" menu, and choose "Volume Creation Wizard." Pick "Create an encrypted file container," "Standard VeraCrypt Volume," then click "Select File" and navigate to your Google Drive or Dropbox folder. Once in the folder, you'll have to makeup a nonexistant file name. Anything works, from "Backup" to "veracrypt_containter" or whatever you want. Once you hit "save," it should you the file path. Continue onward, make sure you've selected "AES" and "SHA-512" for your algorithms (these are the default so you shouldn't have to adjust it), and then move on. The next screen will ask you for a volume size. Ideally, I would say use as much as you can. If you use your Dropbox or Google Drive for other sharing purposes, maybe leave a gigabyte or so free for that, or maybe only use the exact amount of space you require for your backup strategy. Either way, decide what storage size is appropriate for you, then go to the next screen where it requires a password. From there, it's pretty self explanatory. Just answer the questions and it will pick the best formats and such for you.

If you follow these steps, you should have created secure, consistent backups that will protect you in the event of a lost, stolen, or damaged device, or even the dreaded ransomware.

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