What Is a Backup? Keeping Your Data Secure

What Is A Backup

A backup is a copy of your data that’s stored separately from your primary data source. It works like a safety net. If something goes wrong with your primary data, like a hardware malfunction, accidental deletion, or even a cyberattack, you can restore your data from the backup.

Any project that involves data handling should have some form of backup system to restore lost data if things go south. Whether it’s a personal project or business, having a backup gives you peace of mind because you know your data is safe.

For personal use, backups protect precious memories and important documents. It may be your wedding photos, financial documents, academic certificates, or any kind of personal documentation. In a business environment, backups preserve operational data that, if lost, could disrupt business continuity or result in significant financial losses.

Business enterprises use backup software and technology to maintain data integrity and ensure that system operations can quickly resume after any form of data loss.

Why Backups Are Essential

The whole point of having backups is to make sure that you can recover your information swiftly and efficiently in the event of data loss. In this digital era, having reliable backups isn’t just a precaution — it’s a necessity. Here’s why:

Protecting Against Data Loss

Data loss isn’t just a matter of inconvenience. You probably have that one email you regret deleting and being unable to recover. Or, maybe you accidentally deleted one of your favorite photos to free up space on your device.

Such data loss can result in serious implications, both personal and sometimes financial. Losing important documents, cherished photographs, or business-critical data, for example, can be devastating.

That’s where backups come in to provide the safety net I mentioned earlier. They allow you to retrieve data that would otherwise be lost permanently.

Mitigating Risks

Any operation that requires data handling has risks. You’re probably looking at hardware failure or malware attacks. If that’s not the case, you may be one accidental deletion or natural disaster away from losing your data. The list of potential risks goes on and on.

Each of these scenarios can spell trouble for unprotected data. That’s why you need a backup system to ensure that you won’t permanently lose your data, even in the face of such challenges.

Sustaining Business Functionality

Some businesses simply cannot operate without certain data. Think of a bank as an example. The banking system relies heavily on customer data. Losing this data could mean exposing customers to cybersecurity threats, losing their trust, and even being involved in a civil lawsuit.

By implementing backup systems, these businesses can minimize downtime and make sure that business processes can continue with little to no interruption after data loss incidents.

This ability to swiftly restore operational data not only protects against financial loss but also preserves the customer’s trust and a business’s reputation.

Types of Backups

Most of the time, when people talk about backups, they refer to the general act of creating copies of data. But did you know that there are different types of backups? Having this knowledge can help you choose the most suitable method for your data protection needs. Here’s what you should know:

Full Backups

A full backup is exactly what it sounds like. It copies every file and folder in the system. In web hosting, for instance, the full backup system takes a complete snapshot of your website data at a specific point in time.

Full backup illustration

Some hosts may offer daily backups, while others will back up data weekly and, in some cases, even hourly. The greatest advantage of this backup method is that it makes the data restoration process straightforward.

If something goes wrong with your system, you can simply restore the entire backup.

But as you’d expect, since full backups don’t leave out any data, you’ll need more storage space to implement this system.

Incremental Backups

Incremental backups save only the changes made since the most recent backup.

Incremental backups illustration

The biggest advantage of this backup option is that it reduces the time and storage required for each backup session.

The system won’t need to bring every file on board; instead, it only selects the recent changes. This type of backup also doesn’t consume a lot of resources.

That said, it also has its challenges, such as slow data restoration times because it requires the last full backup plus all subsequent incremental backups.

Differential Backups

Differential backups record the changes made since the last full backup, not just since the last differential backup.

Differential backups illustration

What this means is that each differential backup grows in size but has quicker restore times than the time it takes to conduct incremental backups.

To restore this type of backup, you only need the last full backup and the last differential.

A differential backup strikes a balance between data restoration speed and conserving storage space. That explains why it’s a preferred option in many backup strategies.

Cloud Backups

Cloud backups involve storing data remotely on servers managed by third-party cloud hosting providers, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and Amazon S3.

Cloud backups illustration

You may need to consider this option if you’re looking for scalability and accessibility.

With a cloud backup, you can access your backups from anywhere with an internet connection.

Additionally, cloud backups are generally more resilient to local disasters such as fires or floods.

This unique trait makes them a reliable option for protecting both personal and business data.

Off-Site Backups

Off-site backups involve storing backup copies at a location other than your main operational site.

Off-site backups illustration

This explains the word “off-site” which simply means storing data “off your main site.”

This type of backup works best in situations where you need enhanced data protection by mitigating the risks associated with local disasters that could potentially affect both the original data and the on-site backups.

Off-site backups can be in the form of physical drives stored at a secure location or even cloud-based backups.

The main goal here is to keep these two sets of data separate in terms of storage and location. That way, whatever disaster affects the primary site, the backup remains safe in a different location.

How to Create Backups

Earlier, I mentioned that the word “backup” isn’t all about websites and web hosting. Many applications or systems we interact with daily usually have some form of data backup system. Below, I’ll go over some different ways to back up your data on some of the most common platforms we interact with.

Creating Website Backups in cPanel

Let’s start by creating website backups. This is probably the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when we talk about backups. Here’s what you need to do.

Step 1: Log in to your web hosting provider’s control panel. I’ll use Hostinger for demonstration purposes.

Step 2: Click “Websites” at the top menu and select the website you want to create a backup for.

Step 3: On the next page, click “Files,” then select “Backups.”

Screenshot of Hostinger control panel

Step 4: On the Backups page, select “Generate New Backup.”

The backup process could take minutes or hours, depending on the amount of content on your website.

Creating Backups in Google Drive

You have different options for creating a backup in Google Drive. Spoiler alert: None of these options will back up your data automatically. So, be prepared for some manual work. Let’s get started.

Creating a Copy of Your Google Drive

Step 1: Sign in to your Google account and open Google Drive.

Screenshot of Google Drive

Step 2: Click on one file in the drive, and then press “Ctrl + A” on your keyboard to select all files.

Step 3: Right-click your mouse and click “Download.”

Once the download is done, open the zip file and extract it into your preferred location on your device.

Creating a Backup Using Google Takeout

Step 1: Log in to Google Takeout using your Google login information.

Step 2: On the list of products, select “Drive.”

Screenshot of list of Google products with "Drive" highlighted

Step 3: Click “Next step,” and then select “Send download link via email.”

Step 4: Click “Create export.”

Screenshot of Google Drive export page

Step 5: Open your Gmail email and locate the download link sent to you, click “Download” to download the zipped file. You can then unzip its contents in your preferred location.

Note that if you choose this option, you won’t be able to download files created by someone else. Also, each of these two options will require you to create backups manually at different intervals. In other words, you cannot schedule the backup process and have the system do it automatically for you.

Creating Backups on Your PC

The exact process of creating backups on your computer depends on the operating system. Below, we’ll walk through how to do this process on Windows.

Step 1: Plug an external storage device, such as a flash drive, into your computer.

Step 2: On the Windows taskbar, click “Start,” go to “Settings,” and then click “Update & Security.”

Update and Security options

Step 3: On the Windows Update page, click “Files backup,” select “Add a drive,” and then choose the external storage device you plugged in earlier.

Screenshot of Windows OS setting backup page

Step 4: Toggle the button next to the “Automatically back up my files” option to back up your files into the external storage device every hour.

Step 5: To begin the backup process right away, click “More options” and then select “Back up now.”

Throughout this process, make sure the external device stays plugged into your computer. Unplugging it midway may damage the storage device.

How to Determine Your Best Backup Strategy

Now that you know how to create backups, let’s discuss how to go about this process strategically. The goal of this step is to minimize the chance of errors.

Assess Your Backup Needs

To effectively back up your data, you need to determine which data is crucial and how frequently you should back it up. This depends on the volume of data and how often it changes.

If you run a business, for example, you may need daily backups for the most important data. On the other hand, less important data won’t necessarily need regular backups.Meanwhile, you should consider regularly backing up personal data, including important documents, photos, and other irreplaceable files.

Choose Backup Solutions

Once you know what data needs to be backed up, the next step involves selecting a backup solution. Here, you have many options to consider. You can either go with local, cloud-based, or hybrid solutions. Regardless of the option you decide to go with, you should consider the following features:

  • Choose a reliable backup solution and ensure it’s right for your unique situation
  • Find out if the selected solution can grow with your data needs
  • Evaluate the cost-effectiveness regarding both initial setup and ongoing expenses

Now let’s take a deeper look at the different backup solutions I mentioned earlier and where they fit in.

Local backup solutions: As the name implies, local backup stores data on physical devices located on-premises. Examples of such solutions include external hard drives, Network-Attached Storage (NAS) devices, or servers.

This method offers fast access to backups and control over your data since it lives right under your nose. But the downside is that it requires regular maintenance and is vulnerable to local disasters, such as fires and flooding.

Cloud-based backup solutions: Cloud-based backups store your data on servers managed by external cloud hosting providers. Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and DigitalOcean are good examples of popular cloud hosting providers.

If you opt for this option, you’ll benefit from easy scalability, off-site protection, and lower upfront costs. But you’ll have to budget for recurring subscription fees. On top of that, you’ll need access to the internet before you can access your backup on the cloud.

Hybrid backup solutions: Hybrid backup solutions offer the best of local and cloud-based methods under one roof. Put differently, they combine the strengths of both methods.

For instance, you’ll enjoy both the quick accessibility of local backups and the added security of cloud backups. This method is ideal if you need immediate recovery times along with off-site storage benefits.

Set Up Your Backup Systems

The process of setting up your backup system involves choosing the right backup software, configuring backup schedules based on your data assessment, and allocating sufficient storage resources.

For the best results, you should automate the backup process to reduce the risk of human error. If you can’t automate the process, consider setting up a schedule to implement your backup strategy and stick to it.

Test and Monitor Your Backup Systems

Remember to test and monitor your backup systems to ensure they function correctly. Monitoring is one of the best ways to verify the integrity of backups and ensure you can rely on them in case of data loss. It also allows you to detect potential issues before they begin to cause problems.

Best Practices for Backup Management

Effective backup management is necessary to secure your data and make it accessible when needed. Here are some best practices to help you achieve this goal.


As discussed earlier, you should consider automating the backup process mainly to minimize human error. Automating the process also means you’ll secure your data without the need to do any manual work.

That said, we also discussed how some backup systems may not have full automation. That shouldn’t stop you from achieving this goal, either. You can still set up a schedule for creating backups manually and follow it religiously.

Back to automation, consider scheduling the process to run at non-peak hours. This strategy helps reduce the impact on system performance and prevents potential issues, such as unexpected downtime.


Encrypting backup data protects sensitive information from unauthorized access. This is especially true if the data lives off-site or on cloud platforms.

Make sure that the encryption process occurs at the data level before the files leave your system for the intended destination. The last thing you want is a malicious third party intercepting your data in transit.

To achieve this, you’ll need to implement strong encryption standards like AES-256 and manage encryption keys securely. The latter restricts access to authorized parties only.

Regular Maintenance

Effective backup management does not start with automation and end with encryption.

You still need to conduct regular maintenance, which includes verifying the integrity of backups, updating backup policies to reflect changes in your data or business needs, and retiring outdated backups to free up storage space and reduce clutter.

Quick tip: I know I sound like a broken record, but you should consider setting up a schedule to audit your backup process regularly. By doing so, you’ll be able to identify potential issues and fix them before they harm your systems.

Disaster Recovery Planning

You also need a solid disaster recovery plan. This plan should outline how to restore data and resume business operations quickly after a disaster. Having off-site backups to prevent data loss in case of a physical disaster is a great place to start.

Cloud hosting services, for example, should provide faster recovery. Importantly, don’t wait for disaster to strike to find out if your recovery plan works. Instead, be sure to conduct routine tests for two reasons: quality assurance and peace of mind.

Case Studies

There’s no better way to understand and appreciate the importance of backups than learning from real-life situations. I’m talking about organizations that found themselves in situations that required them to restore files from their backup systems. Here are three major incidents worth learning from.

Case Study 1: The NotPetya Malware

In the summer of 2017, the world witnessed one of the most destructive malware in the history of cyberattacks. Dubbed NotPetya, this malware destroyed thousands of computer systems in more than 60 countries. The Danish global transport and logistics behemoth Maersk, in particular, was one of its biggest victims. Here’s a summary of the incident:

Petya Malware logo
  • The malware damaged about 49,000 laptops belonging to Maersk
  • More than 1,200 applications were inaccessible
  • About 1,000 applications were completely destroyed
  • More than half of the company’s 6,200 servers were also destroyed
  • Maersk suffered damages of up to $300 million
  • The company had its data preserved on backups

Maersk’s decision to back up its data long before the attack was a lifesaver. Needless to say, the damage would have been worse had the company failed to maintain a remote backup system.

Case Study 2: Github Data Storage System Failure

In 2018, Github went down for a whole day due to a failure in its data storage system. While the web platform stayed up and running, users experienced the following issues, among others:

Github logo
  • Unable to log into their GitHub accounts
  • Served with outdated files
  • Missing GitHub branches
  • Unable to submit Gists

After resuming normal services, GitHub released a statement claiming that its engineers were conducting a “thorough and transparent root cause analysis and mitigation plan.” Again, this shows the importance of regular maintenance and a solid disaster recovery plan. Also, it’s worth mentioning that, per its official statement regarding the incident, the company did not lose any data because it had a backup system in place.

Case Study 3: Netflix Switching to AWS

Netflix started as a DVD-by-mail movie rental business. Everything seemed to be running smoothly — or at least that’s what the company thought — until 2008, when it suffered a major data loss. As a result, the company couldn’t mail any DVDs to its customers for about three days. Here’s what happened next:

Netflix logo
  • Netflix decided to shift its database to the cloud
  • It chose Amazon Web Services as its cloud hosting provider even though AWS was a direct competitor with its streaming service, Amazon Prime
  • It took about seven years for Netflix to fully migrate to the cloud

By switching its database to the cloud, Netflix experienced better data security and scalability. Today, it’s the world’s largest movie streaming service, serving more than 260 million subscribers.

Backups: An Essential Part of Safe Data Practices

That’s it for now. I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about the importance of setting up a backup system and executing it strategically. You’ve seen how having a backup can be the difference between major financial and data loss or turning things around when disaster strikes.

The story of CloudNordic, a Danish web hosting provider that was brought to its knees by a ransomware attack, is a daily reminder of the need to protect your online presence, even if it means signing up for a Backup-as-a-Service like most businesses with sensitive data do.

Don’t let your guard down; stay prepared and protected with backups.