PCTechBytes Round Table: Computer Disaster Preparedness

Our round table this session deals with user computer disaster preparedness. We all know hard drives fail and malware happens. What is your ability to get back to a fully-functional state with no loss of data? Our forum experts share their thoughts and experiences on this very topic.

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What Is Your Favorite Backup Program

Dr Bob: My go to backup program for home users would be Acronis.  It is extremely easy to use and very user friendly.  Also, for around $50 you get a backup solution you can use right out of the box without much knowledge into that specific program.

My go-to backup program for Business users would be EaseUS Todo Backup Server/Workstation.  There are two main reasons why I chose this as my go-to for businesses.  First, is the cost.  At under $200 you get quality software you can use to back up servers locally.  The majority of server backup software is very expensive, with this package being the exception.  Secondly, it is as easy or easier to use than Acronis and cheaper.

Dave: I use cloud backup for my pictures, music and other things, as well as a local Network Attached Storage device. I also routinely create and update disk images.

How Would You Recommend The Average Person Backup

Dr Bob: I would recommend everyone who owns a computer to do some sort of backups fairly regularly.  If you have any important documents, pictures, or data of any kind on your computer and you do not do any type of backup, you are asking to potentially lose that information forever if you have HDD problems.

Not everyone needs imaging software as I have mentioned above.  A lot of people could get by with just backing up their important data on an external HDD or USB thumb drive.  Since thumb drives are cheap, I would keep a duplicate copy on another thumb drive to safeguard from a corrupt USB backup.  But, if you do this method and you lose a HDD you will have to completely reinstall Windows and your Programs. Having an image backup allows you to just throw in a new HDD or SSD and image it with your backup image.

Dave: I like Microsoft’s SyncToy. Whether you’re backing up to a Network Attached Storage device or a second hard drive in your computer, SyncToy can be configured to mirror your main folders and duplicate them on the backup drive. You can even set it up so if you accidentally delete something from the main drive, it will remain on the backup drive. Here is a brief tutorial on how to setup SyncToy in Windows.

PCS: Depends, I get plenty of users who don’t store any pictures or anything of need on their machines.  It’s all in ICloud and on the phones/tablets.  Even Steam makes it easy for straight games, don’t need anything anymore.  Everything comes from the cloud and is saved there, just load up Steam on a new machine or install, download your games and your good to go.  So not everyone really needs a backup, or needs to backup.  If you store vital documents or personal/family photos etc stuff you can’t replace that isn’t in the cloud, then you should have a good backup plan.

The first is really easy, backup your important data/pics/what have you to a thumb drive, external, CD/DVD, etc.  For those that have more than 16GB+ of stuff an external is probably the way to go.  A physical platter HDD is still the most reliable long term backup media you can have.  Redundancy isn’t required but it virtually brings your chances from low to 0.01% of losing any data.  Add a cloud storage backup ( like what you get free with a purchase of Acronis ) and your chances are pretty much 0% you’ll ever lose your data.  Thumb drives are OK short term storage or for transferring data one place to the next, but are easily damaged and not good long term storage media.  An SSD drive is also not a good long term storage media.  CD/DVDs don’t particularly hold a lot of data. So unless you just have small amount to save and want to buy and store CD/DVDs that’s not the most convenient option for most.

Secondly, using something like Acronis pretty much brings your chances to zero that your going to lose anything or not be able to recover your system.  Acronis has many options and ways of backing up your system or your data.  One option is to back up your entire system with Acronis.  An external HDD is the best and most likely thing for one to use in this situation. Configure Acronis to take and image of the drive and automate it to update the image – incremental or full. You get a free cloud account with a purchase of Acronis so saving the latest image to the cloud gives you redundancy.

Describe Various Methods You Use To Backup

Dr Bob: Realistically, you have four ways you can backup your data:

  1. External HDD/SSD/NAS – This method can be used to store an image of your data created by imaging software or could hold all of your important data in individual files.
  2. USB thumb drive – This method is best suited for individual file backups.
  3. Cloud storage – This method can be used for either method but just depends on how much cloud storage you have.  The only downside is all of your data is in internet-land and has to be downloaded before you can either reinstall the image or your files.  Carbonite, Acronis, and a bunch of others have online cloud storage for varying rates based usually on GB of storage.
  4. DVD based – You can burn all of your files or an image to DVDs or BluRay discs.  DVD dual layer discs top out at 8.4GB and BluRay at 50GB, so you are limited on the amount you can store with this media.

Dave: DVDs, thumb drives and external hard drives are great, but people don’t use them enough to consider this a reliable backup. The method has to be automatic–set it and forget it. I think we need to move away from optical storage media and focus on network-based automated backups.

Is System Restore A Viable Backup Solution

Dr Bob: Back in the heyday of XP, virus infections were a huge pain and great source of income for many PC repair techs.  We found that System Restore, if enabled, was a very popular area for viruses to live when infecting a PC.  Simply cleaning out your old infected Restore Points and fully cleaning the PC with recommended AV/AM software usually could rid you of them.  Nowadays, it doesn’t seem to be the area targeted by conventional viruses.  The most notable viruses today are the crypto variety but they usually come in via email or drive-bys.  They aim to encrypt your System Restore and Shadow Copies so you have to pay to get your files and data back.

PCS: Don’t use System Restore. By far, users do more harm than good with it.  It can be helpful is some situations such as you just captured a restore point yesterday and the power went out while you were updating Windows and now it’s messed up. For the most part the restore points are too old or different from how the system is now, when you think you need it.  Driver updates are frequent, the registry is used heavily, and system restore ( at it’s most basic ) simply restores the registry to a previous point in time.  This is why it does more harm than good for most because users use it incorrectly.  Understanding what it does, and understanding when to use it based on the presenting problem is key to making it an effective tool.  For the unskilled user or those that just try it because they don’t know what else to do, the likelihood that it solves the problem without creating another or even more is high.   Is it a virus haven?  If the point was taken when you had a virus on the system then yes.  In general no, virus’ are quickly becoming a thing of the past ( yep there’s still some out there, there always will be ), junkware is becoming the new “virus.”

Dave: System Restore should be used as a last resort option when all else fails.

What Is The Best Way To Deal With Cryptolocker Type Viruses

PCS: I haven’t had enough experience with them to comment wisely enough.  Again, they are too going by the wayside, and you really don’t even hear about them anymore.  They came at the height of ransomware, and disappeared just as quick.  I don’t think you’ll see much if anymore of them, except on rare occasion. A good backup plan/ recovery plan covers anything like this, if it’s that important to you, protect it by creating an image. An image of a drive is an exact duplicate of the drive at the point in time the image was taken.  The file is compressed, so it will usually be smaller than the drive itself.  It can be restored using the application that made the image.

Dave: If you’ve been infected with a crypto-virus it’s virtually game over. Hopefully, you had a backup plan and a disk image you can use to quickly restore everything.

Dr Bob: CryptoLocker and all of its variants out in the wild today are a huge obstacle that encrypt all of your data and demand payment for a decryption key within usually 48Hrs.  The way that your files are encrypted will not allow you to decrypt without that key and any brute force methods to rid the virus or retrieve your files will render them inoperable.  The biggest way to combat this is with a solid backup program as we mentioned earlier.  If you have an image or data backup you can simply factory reset your PC, reload your image, or reinstall Windows and reload your data.

The virus/trojan is usually contracted via email attachments from senders claiming to be the FBI, IRS, FedEx, UPS, or a masked domain that would have a friend or relatives email address.  You can check the headers of these emails to see the true sender and destination of a return email to make sure the sender is who they say they are.  These types of viruses can also be contracted via the web, either prepackaged in an illegal torrent or from a drive-by attack.

In conclusion

Disaster happens. Consider using everything at your disposal to create redundancy–use the cloud, create disk images and setup local automated NAS servers like these to automate your backups. Feel free to continue this conversation on our computer repair forums today!