Hector Absalon Castillo, Octubre of 2022.
This exposition is the second in a series of articles related to cyber hygiene. As in the previous iteration, the content aims to be an easy read for all audiences while presenting actionable recommendations for our readers to improve their habits when interacting with technology. Remember that “healthy” digital interactions can make a difference.
Summertime vacations are always one of my favorite seasons: city traffic decreases significantly, the sun peeks through my window giving my workspace an entirely new vibe (while giving my body a vitamin D "boost"), and my dogs are a happier and more active. It is during this time of the year that I also have the opportunity to go on vacation with my family. And… What is more important than family?
For yours truly, dear reader, absolutely NOTHING has a priority over the smile of the people with whom I will [ideally] share my life regardless of place, date, or circumstance. Therefore, I am one of those people who enjoy taking photos, videos, and audios of everything that happens around me.
Now, all these impressions and memories tend to accumulate over the years, and more than once I've found it necessary to modify my backup strategy to accommodate the copious amounts of "what's important." ---That's when I realized that more than one person in my life has no idea on how to properly back up their information, or the technologies that exist for it.
As in the previous occasion, I do not seek to educate technophages with great knowledge about data recovery strategies and business continuity… no. My approach revolves around all those people who, like me, have a few thousand files that they have a special affection for: regardless of their nature, they may be their memories or the accounting files of their side hustle.
To begin, I would like to highlight the importance of using terms that are “acceptable” in a technological context. The foregoing with the noble intention of facilitating dialogue with individuals who brim with technical knowledge, or simply with those who give themselves the pretense of "purist". That is why it is important to know the definition of the term “backup” (everything, according to Oxford Languages):
- Help or support.
- An extra copy from a computer.
As I have done before, I want to “isolate” the definition that is useful to us for the purposes of this article. Therefore, in the following (at least in this document) I will use the word “backup” under the agreement to do so only referring to an “extra copy from a computer”.
Protecting the past
The past is always in behind us; but our interactions and nature as human beings have led us to develop (over time), different types of memory to take advantage of past knowledge in the uncertain future. According to Michael Greshko of National Geographic in his publication entitled "Human Memory: How We Create, Remember, and Forget Memories," human beings have three types of memory: short-term memory, which lasts from a few seconds to a few hours; long-term memory that can last several years without losing clarity or precision; and finally, the working memory that allows us to keep something in our minds for a limited time as long as it is repeated (like chanting a phone number to remember it). I invite you to read Greshko's article on the official NatGeo website, as it is revealing in more ways than one.
Unfortunately, and from personal experience (of all of us, I think), the memory of the human being is not infallible. Perhaps a monument that I "clearly" remember can be evoked with the same certainty by my wife... with the difference that in my mind’s eye said monument is made of bronze, while in hers, it is casted in gold. Hence, my obsession with photos and videos.
Surely more than one of our readers has had something similar happen to them, and that is why I actively seek for everyone to have mechanisms that not only help them remember, but also make them relive their happiest moments. This is where I begin to talk about that "extra copy"; which in terms of cyber hygiene, takes the form of a backup.
There are multiple (to save the individual proportions) scenarios in which we can lose information… perhaps you accidentally spilled liquid on your personal computer, you could have lost your cell phone in that beautiful public square, or you dropped your GoPro while enjoying a paragliding experience; and what's worse, these devices held the only copy of last year's vacation’s photos.
So, you’re one of those grumps that do not take a single picture? OK OK! I’ve got a scenario for you:
You made a change to that Excel file that your boss asked you for... and it got corrupted because of your impatience while closing the application! What's worse, you overwrote and saved this version with the same file name as the previous one and now all your work is lost… due tomorrow!
To avoid any of these situations, it is important that we adopt our next cyber hygiene habit: backups.
Habit: Backup your data
When you are a person with access to technology, it is almost inevitable to start creating files of all kinds. And, considering you created them, you'll have a hard time getting rid of them (except for those horrendous selfies you took last night). So, to help you keep your files and your sanity, here are some of the practices that have worked me, personally:
- Hire a cloud storage service. According to mylio.com, 90.6% of the photos that were taken during 2021 were captured using a smartphone. These devices have direct access to online backup services. The services available depend on your device’s brand or even location, but iCloud and Google Drive are two highly recommended alternatives. Not all versions of these services are free, so you'll need to adjust your storage expectations or budget. Take advantage of the benefits of automatic synchronization to create continuous backups.
- Get a heavy-duty external hard drive. According to Backblaze, the average cost per gigabyte on a hard drive has dropped dramatically since 2015, to the point that today each of these drives can cost as little as three cents (depending on multiple factors, of course). Some of these devices already have the capability to connect to your home network to facilitate “anywhere” backups. These boxes can store outrageous amounts of data; make the most of them for all those devices without automatic copies (or when your files are huge and it is impractical to move them to the cloud).
- Apply version control to your files. This can be as simple as adding the date you made your file, or a V1, V2, V3… at the end of the file name. This will allow you to go back to a previous iteration of your data in case of errors or failures. As an example, you can use the following structure:
Which makes sure that the files on your device are ALWAYS displayed in order, making it easy to find the latest version.
- Create a backup schedule. If you keep an appointment calendar, or have an alarm clock, you can get into the habit of building and running a backup calendar. It is simple! Just add in a reminder the frequency of your backup, the information you need to keep safe, and the backup mechanism. I suggest adding extra reminders to check that your backups are working (just open your files from your backup… don't get overwhelmed).
I remind you again: Cyber hygiene is not an isolated event, but a series of steps that must be practiced frequently to create healthy habits.
I hope to have your follow-up and reading for the following blog entries; and remember: KIO makes it possible.