Be honest: When was the last time you lost data? And by losing data, I don’t mean not being able to find a phone number. I mean the kind of data loss that occurs if you drop your smartphone into a lake or the hard drive of your PC can’t withstand the summer heat.
Whether they’re switching from one smartphone to another, or to a new computer, far too few people are seriously concerned about data protection these days.
We live in a world where almost all professional and private business depends on data. Even the supermarket checkout process is no longer possible without a data server. That’s why data protection is important, at both the enterprise and personal levels.
In general terms, data protection concerns three areas:
- securing data, especially personal data such as bank account numbers, TANs and PINs, against theft and misuse;
- protecting data against viruses and other malware; and
- protecting data in case of a hardware failure.
So, data protection is more than just virus protection and passwords. But many users ignore the protection of their data. You probably know someone who has four or five broken cellphones at home. Of the data that used to be on those phones, what was saved on the SIM card may have been saved. It’s similar with laptops and tablets. Whenever a device fails, data is lost. It might just be letters and e-mails, but mostly it’s photos – and when they’re gone, beautiful memories are lost forever. But contracts and other documents can also be lost. Data losses are therefore both material and non-material.
Some people may feel safe because their data is hardly ever stored on their own devices, but in the cloud. Some pictures stored on Dropbox or Instagram have long since stopped being on the user’s smartphone. Documents are stored on Office 365, in the cloud. E-mails are with Gmail. This data may never be lost. But is all of it safe and secure?
So, what exactly is data protection? Data protection is an umbrella term for all technologies that protect data against loss, damage, theft, and alteration.
Data protection – everything that goes with it
The technologies for data protection consist of hardware and software. Personal data is protected from unauthorized access by means of passwords. A mirror on a second storage drive provides protection against technical failures in a storage drive. A backup duplicates data and saves it temporally and ion a place physically separate from the “live” data. An independent power supply protects computers and their hard drives from power failures. Data protection is concerned with securing data against access by unauthorized persons and misuse, as well as with the security of data to protect against loss. Ultimately, data protection is about defending against computer viruses and blackmail software (ransomware).
One of the most important tasks that users have to take care of themselves is protection against theft and misuse. This not only applies to the data on personal devices – from PCs to tablets to smartphones– but also data “on the Internet”. All data on the internet is an object of desire. This applies primarily to passwords for Google, Facebook, WhatsApp or Skype accounts. Many people tend to use the same passwords for different accounts. Once discovered, the hackers try to gain access to email accounts or cellphones. Then it’s only a small step to a bank or PayPal account.
The most important tips for protecting against spying on passwords – in other words, the basic rules for data protection – are:
- Never use the same password for multiple accounts.
- Never use words that are in a dictionary or that consist of numbers (birthdays or lottery numbers) as passwords, because these can easily be generated by a generator.
- Change your password regularly.
- Don’t keep a list of passwords on one of your computers or smartphones.
Regularly changing passwords is also the first step in the next task in data protection: protecting against viruses. Anti-virus programs and programs for protecting against unauthorized Internet access have proven effective as means against viruses, spyware, and other malware, whereby the firewall (literally the fire protection wall) of the operating system can only be a minimal solution. Virus protection is important, for example, to prevent USB sticks and other external media from becoming a source of danger.
Advanced users have a RAID system with multiple hard drives. This mainly helps protect against minor technical errors within a hard disk drive. RAID systems can – depending on the configuration – distribute data over several hard drives. If a hard disk then has difficulties reading a data block, for example, the data block can be read by one of the additional (i.e., redundant) hard disks. However: If the user accidentally deletes data, they are also lost on the redundant drives.
However, no matter how carefully passwords and virus protection are chosen or how expensive the hard drive system is, the day will come when data is lost.
Backups for home and business
So far, we’ve mainly discussed protection against external disruptions such as viruses and malware or attacks.
However, data loss is not always due to an outside attack. Often the causes are very simple. For example, a system change or simply a defect in the storage drive, whether it’s a broken hard drive, a defective USB stick, or the failure of a smartphone or PC. Repair services can sometime recover data , but often only partially, and generally at costs well above the price of the storage media. Often, however, human error can be the cause of data loss, as when photos or directories are simply deleted. Many users are now faced with the time-consuming chore of searching WhatsApp or Skype chats for photos. Important addresses or phone numbers must be found laboriously, or you have to ask all your friends to send the data again.
A means of data protection often overlooked by private users is a backup system. A backup is storage of existing data on a separate data carrier, separated in time and space from the “live” system. Typically, this is a second hard drive. Anyone who occasionally copies their data folders to a separate hard drive has already taken an important step. If data is damaged, it may be possible to reconstruct the data from this data carrier. These copies have to be started manually and usually take a long time. The computer often slows down during the copying process.
Backup software does its copying in the background. You only need to tell the backup software (through its settings) which data should be automatically backed up and when. The backup software then does the following:
- Back up the operating system environment and the settings files,
- A complete backup of all data, i.e., all images, documents, programs and their settings files, etc.,
- Creates checksums,
- A regularly recurring (so-called incremental) backup of all changes since the last backup.
Sophisticated backup software can also back up data from smartphones and tablets. Once set, this happens in the background without the user having to worry about the what and how.
In the event of data loss, the data is on the backup drive, and because this backup drive is idle during normal operation of the computer and only accessed via the backup software, the data on this drive is safe. A backup is possible for individual files or folders, for entire drives, or for entire systems. Anyone who creates a backup of their smartphone can restore a complete iPhone or Android smartphone in the event of damage.
If you want to make your data protection even more secure, you can back up the backup drive yourself. A backup is also created from this second backup. This creation of multiple backups is called the grandfather-father-son principle. The principle already existed in the early days of electronic data processing and is considered particularly secure, because even errors on a backup data carrier no longer have any effect. The data carriers are used again and again in a rotating system.
Modern backup solutions also use the cloud as a secure storage location for the backup data sets. With a backup in the cloud, the user doesn’t have to worry about providing the drives for data backup and operation. The backup software then simply saves all changes to the last backup status as soon as a device is online.
Advantages of backup solutions
The advantages of backup solutions are obvious.
- The data backup is carried out automatically so that the user cannot forget to back up his pictures, contacts, telephone numbers, emails, and documents.
- The backup runs in the background and doesn’t interfere with the computer, smartphone, or tablet as much as direct copying.
- With a cloud backup, secure storage systems are used in a data centre of the backup solution provider and the user doesn’t have to worry about the procurement and operation of the backup drives.
- Thanks to convenient setup wizards, users don’t have to learn how to operate additional software, but can concentrate on what’s important.
A backup is therefore more than just a copy of the data. But the backup must also be planned. Once planned, the data can be restored in almost any situation.
The three golden rules of data protection
Rule 1: An important prerequisite for data protection is the awareness of the correct handling of passwords, the appropriate selection of devices (from PCs to tablets to smartphones), and the correct selection of cloud services.
Rule 2: Assess what data you have, where it is currently stored, how important it is, and whether you have access to this data. Such an inventory will reveal vulnerabilities in data protection, from passwords stored in files to external hard drives that are no longer accessible.
Rule 3: Use backup software. Especially if you want to back up many different devices, backup software, including cloud storage, is recommended. You should also use this backup software to regularly test whether the data can be restored.