Okay, so perhaps I’m being a bit flippant with the blog post title, but hear me out. The news over the weekend of the ransomware attacks affecting both public and private sector organisations is a powerful reminder about how important it is to back up our data. How would you feel if you suddenly found you no longer had access to your life’s written work?
As I understand it, this ransomware attack tricks users into downloading some software (often via a link in an email programme) which then locks your data, preventing you from accessing it until you pay a ransom. (And then there may be some uncertainty about whether you’ll regain access, once you’ve paid the ransom.)
The hackers don’t take, or copy, your data. They simply prevent you from getting at it. So, it’s not a complete disaster if you have an up-to-date backup of your data. Seek advice from a trusted computer service, but from what I’ve read online the best solution is wiping your hard drive clean and doing a complete fresh install of everything: operating software (with all the relevant updates) and then all of the programmes you use and your data.
This in itself is immensely time-consuming, but it is a solution available to you IF YOU HAVE AN UNAFFECTED UP-TO-DATE BACKUP.
One thing I’ve learned over the weekend is the importance of having an ‘unconnected’ back-up of everything. So much of our lives are connected online, with backups being made automatically to the cloud, or devices that are permanently connected to our desktop, or laptop, machines.
I have a back-up drive connected to my desktop, which is constantly making back-ups every few minutes. That’s great if I accidentally delete something from my hard drive. But if hackers took control of my machine they could also have control of that back-up hard drive too. (And if there was a sudden electrical surge, or lightning strike, which wasn’t dealt with by my surge protector, it could fry my desktop computer and all devices connected to it … including that back-up drive.)
So it’s important to make regular back-ups of our work to external devices that we have to plug in: such as a USB stick, or a separate USB drive.
Back-up to one of these on a regular basis and, should anything happen to your main writing computer, the worst that can happen is that you lose your work created since the last time you backed up. Even better, these USB back-ups can be taken with you when you go away. Should the unthinkable happen to your desktop when you’re away (burglary, storm damage, house fire, or any other disaster you can think of) at least you’ll still have a copy of your data with you.
If you can, back up to more than one of these devices, and store one elsewhere while you’re away so that you have one with with and one elsewhere, should you be really unlucky and find your house burns down while you’re on holiday and your suitcase with your back-up USB in it gets stolen at the airport! (Come on – use that creative muscle – there’s a short story idea here, if nothing else!)
In some ways, the great thing about being a writer is that our words rarely create big files. My novels are less then 1 megabyte in size. Most of my articles, in plain text format, are fewer than 100 kilobytes. What this means is that my entire collection of words (my life’s work!) fits on a 16GB USB stick, and there’s still room for any work I create in the next thirty or so years.
You can pick up a 16Gb (other sizes available – select the size that will meet your writing requirements) USB memory stick for under £10 today. They’re not expensive. Buy a couple (because it’s always worth having more than one back up, just in case a back-up stick fails).
And make it a routine to back-up to these on a frequent basis. How frequently is up to you. You’re the one who knows how prolific you are. If you’re adding 2,000 words a day to your projects then you might want to back-up to these external USB sticks every day, or every other day. If you’re adding 2,000 words to your project every week, then perhaps a weekly or fortnightly back-up may suit you better.
The question to ask yourself is: how much data are you prepared to lose?
This shouldn’t be your only back-up method. You should have a back-up policy that works on several levels: the cloud, a permanently connected hard-drive undertaking incremental back-ups on a regular basis.
But if you don’t already back-up to a USB stick, then consider adding this to your back-up procedures. It might make life easier should you find yourself exposed to such a ransomware attack. Because only you know what your life’s written work is worth to you.
And, of course, make sure you have up-to-date antivirus software and your operating system has all the relevant updates available. Because prevention is better than cure.