Category Archives: security

Technology is great until it fails! How to back up your pictures and other files

In this age where almost everyone has some form of capturing the moment digitally; whether you have a full-on Digital SLR camera, point and click, iPod, iPhone, Android, etc. at some point you’re going to amass lots of pictures and videos.

So what would happen if the device they were on right now failed? Would you lose all your treasured files? What options do you have to backup?

Backing up your PC / Mac

There are so many options here to consider; here’s a brief run-down of the main ones:

Data Transfer Speed Cost to Implement Typically Stored Risk of Failure Comments
Optical Media (CD/DVD) Slow $ On Site Low Long term storage option; Size limitations per Disc (e.g. Single Layer DVD is 4.7GB)
Attached Portable Disk Fast $ On Site Moderate Good for quick archival; risk of disk failure
(in unit) RAID array (non-NAS) Fast $$ On Site Low Provides protection, but risk to data if the entire unit is affected
Single NAS drive Medium * $ On Site Moderate Central location for everyone on a home network to backup to; risk of single disk failure
RAID NAS Drive Medium * $$ On Site Low Central location for everyone on a home network to backup to; risk should the location catch fire, etc.
Free Cloud Offerings Medium * Cloud Low Space is typically limited; very little options in syncing files
Paid Cloud Offerings Medium * $$$ Cloud Low Best compromise  of accessibility, speed, risk and flexibility; Most expensive option long term

Some terminology while we’re here:

NAS = Network Attached Storage; think of it like a portable hard drive that you can put in your home network and anyone on your network can see it

RAID = Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks; most home PCs have one hard drive. if that fails then it’s game over. Some PCs are configured to allow other hard drives to be added which mirror the main hard drive. This doesn’t increase your hard drive space – instead, if the main hard drive fails, you have at least one disk with a backup of your data which you can run from. To read more about RAID, check this wiki article out.

Backing up isn’t just once and done

Backups typically are one of three types. When you are looking to backup your files, you might want to think about using backup software to help automate it, and so you’ll need to consider the following

  • Full – A complete backup of all files is taken each time
  • Incremental – A full backup is taken and then only changes are backed up after that point, resulting in multiple incremental sets of backups
  • Differential – A full backup is taken and then only changes are taken; each time a backup occurs it overwrites the last differential backup and takes all files updated since the full backup. This results in only two backup files being present at any one time.

Many backup services offer a variety of these. To me, differential seems the one I’d pick because in the event of a disk failure, I’m only having to work with two files, otherwise I’m maintaining many files with incremental (unless I’m on the ball with when I do a full backup).

The Need for Speed

When you’re backing up gigabytes of files you want it to happen fairly quickly – if you’re using something like a DVD or slow internet connection it’s going to take a while. That could be a PITA.

What’s the best option for me?

Generally using Cloud for backups is the best compromise – if all you’re doing is backing up and don’t want others to have access to the files. Otherwise, a NAS RAID drive might suit better. Both have pros and cons – think about speed, access, cost and finally – if you’re house were to catch on fire, would you save your RAID NAS drive?

Here’s a comparison of Cloud services to consider. Carbonite, Mozy and Backblaze are typically the most popular premium services, so also check out this.

What about my cell / mobile phone backups?

iPhones have iCloud and iTunes to help with that. You can sync your files to either / both and take care of it.

Android has a slightly different set of options; You can sync your contacts and pictures with Google directly (including Google Picassa) or you can buy some of the apps out there for it. TechHive has a great article on this very topic.


We all need to consider our backup strategy – and have one in place. It also goes hand in hand with being able to organise your files so that if you need to refer back to them, you can. How many times have you seen the folder “DCIM” with image names such as “IMAGE0012.JPG”? Technology still has to solve the ability to catalogue digital images effectively!

So, what do you use for backups?


Your Digital Toolkit – Protecting against thieves

Having your laptop, desktop or PDA stolen is a nightmare scenario many of us hate to think about and regretfully, some of us have experienced. So what can you do to in order to try and recover your property when stolen?

Record Keeping


It’s somewhat tiresome, but it will help when your property is recovered that you keep a list of serial numbers to hand so that you can help the police identify them. Personally I recommend storing all your important info like serial numbers in Evernote. This service is free and allows you to retrieve text notes anywhere there’s an internet connection. It also means that you have a permanent digital copy, not some scrap of paper you lose later!

Stealth Tracking

The Prey Project
Stealth tracking of your devices

If your device is stolen and the thief connects it to an internet connection (inevitably) then installing Prey (from the Prey Project) will definitely come in handy.

Prey runs as a small program in the background that can be activated on your command and has some excellent features which will be essential in helping track where your device is, including:

  • Geo-location tracking
  • Taking of screenshots (great when the thief starts using facebook or emails)
  • Activation of any attached webcam (DIY mugshot)
  • List of nearby WiFi hotspots

This might not be the definitive method to locate your device but it’s all going to help when it comes to the recovery and possible prosecution.

Prey comes in free and Pro versions and supports Windows, Mac, Linux and Android – iOS version promised later; the free version allowing up to 3 devices to be tracked per registered email.

Accessing your PC

Now we have a means to capture the location, and possible picture of the person who may have stolen your device, having access to your device. Luckily for Windows and Mac users you can use remote desktop software like LogMeIn.

LogMeIn has free and paid versions – the free version is limited but does allows you to screengrab and also take control of the desktop session. This will allow you to copy all your important files to a service like DropBox (we’ll come on to that in a minute). The paid version lets you copy the files directly to your hard disk.

There are other free alternatives out there just as adept as LogMeIn such as PC Helpware which will do the same type of function; the reason I mention LogMeIn is that it seems to be the tool of choice for folks in the Reddit community who tend to be very technically minded.

(Comparison of LogMeIn versions)

Remote Storage


There are a couple of services out there that provide free remote storage; for the purpose of this post I’m going to recommend DropBox (I use this service), but will suggest some alternatives.

Remote services provide an amount of web-based storage space; in the case of DropBox, they provide 2GB of space, of which you can purchase more space. Typically you install a small piece of software and then your PC or Mac can then access this space as if it were a disk drive attached to your computer.

For everyday use you can store files as if it were just another disk drive – and in the case of your PC or Mac being stolen, copy files from your PC to DropBox. You then need to change your DropBox password (or uninstall on the stolen device) to prevent the thief accessing your files.

Alternatives to DropBox are:

  • SugarSync – Similar to DropBox, with some more advance sharing options and a larger amount of space with the free plan (5GB). As an early adopter I went with first to market (DropBox) but this service seems to be just as good.
  • Microsoft SkyDrive – Boasting 25GB of free space, Microsoft’s offering seems excellent. However I’ve tried it out and personally feel that DropBox and SugarSync are better for my own needs – however you should also check it out to see if it’s a good option for you.

Browser Security

How many of you click YES to “remember password?” when you’re entering a username / password? You’ve now allowed the thief to access any site you said yes to – this could include your email and other personal information, should your device be stolen.


I personally use LastPass – a free service that intercepts all your “Remember Password” requests and stores them in a remove store (securely). Of course, you’re now putting all your eggs in one basket (LastPass), but the service is secure and also stops your stolen device having your personal passwords on it.

An additional benefit is that by installing LastPass on other devices you can access those secure sites without having to re-enter anything.

Extra : Bookmark Synchronisation

If you like the idea of having browser bookmarks synchronised across browsers on separate devices check out the following:

  • All browsersXMarks
  • Firefox / Foxmarks – Firefox plugin
  • Google Chrome – Link up your Google Account to Chrome and you can sync your bookmarks

Note – I have only personally used Google Chrome sync’ing, so can’t speak for the other two. If you’ve got good or bad experience of these or others please comment and let us all know!