Bring on the virus-infected emails, spyware drive-by downloads, and script kiddies probing for open ports on my DSL connection. With an antivirus app, active spyware protection, and a firewall, I've got virtually nothing to fear. My own computing nightmares are filled with something far more threatening—data loss! I don't care how prepared you are with system backups, disaster recovery plans, and file recovery tools, there is absolutely nothing convenient about having your PC crash.
The hard drive in my Toshiba laptop had the hard drive fail this week. Due to poor planning on my part, about 72 hours worth of data isn't backed up. Now I'm going through the painful process of trying to get it all back. 72 hours doesn't seem like much, it's only 3 days, but those were some very important days in terms of my work schedule. In the hours prior to the drive crash, several very important emails arrived, which I am now scrambling to recover. A few articles with deadlines now past are still sitting there waiting for me to make some final corrections. Luckily, the contract for my next book showed up after the crash, so it's safely on my server.
Don't feel too sorry for me though, I'm a firm believer that any data loss is due to user stupidity. Right now, I'm feeling very stupid. I recovered most of what I need from the drive, thanks to scheduled backups and the fact that I tend to frequently burn CDs filled with data as archives of my projects. The data I can't get is driving me nuts. Some of it will take hours to either re-write or track down the information sources necessary to get the information.
Moving forward, I've already taken steps to make sure this never happens again. I'm putting measures in place to make sure any files on my system that change are copied out to second drive every day instead of weekly. I'm adding more redundant storage. And I'm strongly considering the possibility of hard copy backups for a few more pertinent pieces of information.
Please take the opportunity of my own data loss to reexamine your backup system. If you're scratching your head thinking, 'what backup system?' Get one! In all my years of experience doing corporate consulting and dealing with my own mission critical data, nothing has consumed more time or wasted more financial and man power resources than trying to get back lost data. Viruses, spyware, and hackers are a minor inconvenience by comparison.
Backup software doesn't need to be expensive. Microsoft includes a backup utility with every version of Windows. It isn't the best tool, but it works. For backing up Outlook, there's also the free Personal Folders Backup. Many CD and DVD burners include backup software with set-it-and-forget-it backup scheduling. For simple backups of essential apps, shareware products like Easy Backup provide scheduled backups of all the stuff you'd really hate to lose. Second Copy is quite possibly one of the best options for backups; it lets you create a custom profile and then makes a duplicate on a second drive based on changes to the files. It runs in the background and should keep you from ever losing data due to gaps in your backup schedule. I purchased my first copy of Second Copy after this recent crash. If you don't currently have an extra hard drive for backups, take a look at the tutorial on creating your own external hard drive at the bottom of this issue. Hopefully next time (and based on past experience, I know there will be a next time), my data loss will minutes rather than days.