The information held on your computer may be irreplaceable. Regularly backing up your data will ensure that you have more than one copy.

The risks

  • Hardware failure (for example, hard drive failure is a frequent occurrence).
  • Accidental file deletion.
  • Theft.
  • Fire, flood, accidental damage.
  • Catastrophic virus or spyware infections.
  • File deletion during operating system upgrades.

The data on your computer could include your documents, photos, music, video and contacts – as well as your software. Modern computer hard drives can hold massive volumes of data, making the consequences of loss through any of the above potentially disastrous. The impact could be inconvenient, stressful, time consuming and expensive.

Keep your data safe

Backups make it simple for you to protect your data by copying and storing it somewhere other than your computer hard drive.

A variety of different methods of backing up your data are available. Whichever you choose, it is essential to observe the following:

  • Plan for total loss of your data (for example, theft of a laptop which contains all of your data).
  • If backing up data on an external hard drive, ensure that it is stored on different premises to prevent your backup data being stolen or damaged along with your computer.
  • If enabled by your backup device, password-protect backups to protect your privacy.

The first time data is backed up, a full backup will be carried out. Subsequent backups need only to be incremental – where only files that have been changed or added since the last backup are stored. Most modern backup processes select which mode to use automatically.

Backup methods

Two principal methods of backing up your data are available. To choose which to use, you need to consider ease of use, speed, price and your own lifestyle.

Portable hard drives

An external hard disk is a fast, efficient way of backing up all of your data. Models are available that either plug into your computer’s USB port, or connect via your wireless network. Most are so compact that they can easily be stored off-site.

These typically range from 320 Gigabyte (320,000 Megabyte) models costing less than £50, to those providing up to 4 Terabytes (4,000 Gigabytes) for around £275. To give you an idea of the amount of storage they provide, one photo of reasonable quality taken on a digital camera or camera phone will typically be between 1 and 5 Megabytes. A music file in MP3 format will be between 3 and 8 Megabytes. So even on the 320 Gigabyte drive mentioned above, you could fit over 100,000 average-sized photos or 64,000 music tracks.

Some portable hard drives provide a ‘one touch’ feature which backs up your data at the touch of a button, or automatically at pre-set intervals.

It is important to test that the data you have backed up on your portable hard drive can be recovered if needed. You should test this by using a different computer to ensure that the backup is compatible – and recoverable – in the event of the loss of your existing computer.

Online backup (cloud backup)

The use of online backup (also known as ‘cloud backup’) is increasingly popular owing to its added convenience, security and low cost.

You may back up any data from one or two documents or photos to the entire contents of your computer, with virtually no limitation on storage space. Some providers supply limited storage free of charge, but generally the cost of backups increases proportionally to the amount of data involved.

There are many providers of online backup. These include internet service providers (ISPs), internet security software vendors and companies such as Apple with the iCloud – to specialists.

Increasingly, the Cloud is being used for not only backups but primary storage. This enables you to access your data from any computer, smartphone or tablet anywhere in the world without having to carry the data with you, with its associated security risks. Using the Cloud for primary storage also ensures data security as providers back up your data as well as storing it. This overcomes most of the risks associated with storing data stored on your computer.

Other advice

Do not use USB memory sticks, recordable CDs or DVDs to back up your data. Although these may appear to be inexpensive and convenient methods, they share limited capacity and are also easily lost or stolen. CDs and DVDs are also very slow to transfer your data.



In partnership with

Jargon Buster

A Glossary of terms used in this article:


Copying data to ensure its availability in the case of computer failure or loss.


See cloud computing.


1000 megabytes


1000 kilobytes.


The technology used to store sound files, typically for music or podcasts.

Online backup

A backup method in which data is transmitted over the internet for storage, often referred to as ‘cloud’ backup.


Universal Serial Bus: a means of physically connecting computers and peripherals such as external storage, keyboards and MP3 players.