All things eventually die, and that’s certainly true of computers. If you don’t already have a backup plan in place, make one. And if you do, consider if you need to update it.
A good backup can convert tragedy to annoyance. Several years ago, someone broke into our house and stole several items including our TV and my Mac. I had a Time Machine drive attached – but it was missing, too. Years of photos, emails, addresses, Quicken records, Turbo Tax files, all gone. About three weeks after the break in, while cleaning up my office I found my backup drive! It had fallen off the computer desk between the desk and wall. Eureka and hallelujah! Now the loss was only money. Well, that and peace of mind. But nothing lost that couldn’t be restored.
Today I keep a Time Machine backup in the house (though not sitting on the desk), and another in a safe deposit box (I used to keep it at work when I had an office out of the house). I swap them every month or two. I do recommend having two copies of your backup, with one outside of your house, whether you use my method, or use a cloud backup for off-site backup.
A Copy is NOT a Backup
Apple’s free backup solution is Time Machine. There are third party software alternatives with more/different features, and you’ll need something different or additional if you go with a cloud solution. Time Machine is fine for most people going with a local solution, and the cloud providers will provide their own software with the service.
But your backups need to be backups, not just copies. If you have your Desktop and Documents folders mirrored to iCloud, have data on a RAID system, or use Google Drive, Dropbox, or some other cloud mirroring to copy content, that can be useful – but it doesn’t replace a backup. If something corrupts or deletes your files on your main computer (whether by accident, bad luck, or malware/ransomware), it will be dutifully duplicated everywhere they are copied. And you’ll be out of luck. A backup will let you go back to before the corruption happened.
Cloud vs. Local
There’s a lot to be said for a cloud backup, though it’s fairly expensive if you have a lot of data or a lot of computers. My method, with all backup happening local but schlepping disks back and forth to a remote location, saves me a subscription cost and a lot of bandwidth use, but means the remote copy is always a bit out of date. Plus it’s a hassle.
Backblaze is a reputable company with good Mac support. They charge $70/year for each computer backed up. In a worst-case scenario, they can ship you all your data on a hard drive to restore, and you can either buy the drive, or return it for credit after you restore. Other solid vendors are Carbonite, Crashplan, and iDrive. Pricing varies a bit depending on the amount of storage and how many computers you have, but expect $50 – $80 per computer per year for a good service. Make sure they guarantee full encryption of all your data, and stick with someone likely to be around a while.
Some of the cloud services will provide backup software that you can use for both a cloud and local copy, and that’s probably fine. But I’d lean toward using Time Machine for a local copy, just in case the cloud company software gets hacked, goes out of business, or gets sold to China or Russia.
Hard Drive vs. SSD
I’m assuming everyone reading this has a Solid-State Drive (SSD) as their main computer drive these days. But is that the way to go for your backup drive?
An SSD is certainly faster, will most likely last longer before a failure, is quieter, and uses less electricity. On the other hand, SSDs cost significantly more.
If you have a 1 TB SSD in your Mac, you need at least 2 TB for the backup, with more being better (2-4 times the space used is a good rule of thumb). As I write, I see good-name 2 TB HD external drives for under $65, and 4 TB for under $90. A reliable 2 TB external runs over $200.
Hot Warning: Currently when I go to sites I expect to be legitimate, like Amazon and Walmart, I see no-name 16 TB SSD drives for anywhere from $15 to $150. These are what we used to call WORN drives – Write Once, Read Never. People who have opened them up have sometimes found a 16 GB thumb drive attached to a board that makes them seem to be much bigger. You can save your files to the drive, but it just writes them all to the same little thumb drive. They are pure fraud. It’s too good to be true. Be careful!
I personally go with large external HD drives that I use for multiple computers. If one fails, I still have a recent backup on another drive, and I can buy another even larger one. My latest purchase was a Seagate Expansion 16 TB for $270. It will likely last me 3-4 years without any problems. I’m okay with backups being relatively slow and relatively likely to fail in return for the extra space. And I tuck them under my desk so I don’t have to hear the noise.
Time Machine will eventually fill up your drive, and will then start getting rid of older backups to make room for new changes. If you get a drive that’s triple what you are using, that should give you at least 6 months of backups, which should be plenty. Advice that I’m not great at following is to keep your backup drives only for Time Machine. Though it’s handy to store big files on an already attached drive that has room, it works best to keep file storage separate from backups.
Do make sure you encrypt your backups. For Time Machine, that means making sure you click the “Encrypt backups” checkbox when you add the new disk. That does give you a password you’ll need to keep track of, but it’s well worth the peace of mind. If someone steals your encrypted drive, you’ve lost the cost of an external drive. If it’s not encrypted, someone has your data – which may cost a lot more than that!
If you have a current backup that’s not encrypted, you can’t change it to encrypted through the Time Machine preferences, but you can use Disk Utility to encrypt the whole partition.
With everything I’ve said above about having two backups of your Mac, Apple’s cloud backup of your iPhone or iPad seems fine to me. Backups are encrypted, automatic, and held by Apple, which seems very likely to be around for a while. And, ideally, all of the important data should be syncing to your Mac via iCloud. Do occasionally make sure your backups are happening, though. Go to Settings > your name > iCloud > iCloud Backup and make sure you’ve had a recent successful backup.
For extra safety you can do a local device backup to your Mac. Attach the phone or iPad with Lightning or USB C as required to the Mac, find the device under the Locations section in a Finder window, and you’ll see the options that used to show up in iTunes. Under the Backups: section of the General tab, you can choose to backup to your Mac. There is an “Encrypt Local Backups” checkbox I strongly suggest using.
For a long time, Time Machine partitions had to use Mac OS Extended (aka HFS+) as the format. For the last two or three OS versions, the more modern APFS format is supported, and is a more reliable format. Time Machine had a tendency to eventually corrupt its partition using HFS+. If you get a new disk for Time Machine, or need to reformat an old one, use APFS. It will put the Time Machine backup in its own container on the disk.
More on Legacy Contacts
In my last post, I talked about Apple Legacy Contacts, and promised to follow up on other end-of-life digital planning. I just dealt with Facebook for my late mother and uncle.
Facebook has the capability of Memorializing an account. The default option is to essentially freeze the page and mark their profile with “Remembering” in front. It also takes them out of “people you may know” and birthday reminder listings. Anyone can request an account be memorialized if they submit proof of death (i.e., obituary, death certificate, or funeral program) and some information.
An alternate option is to remove an account. That takes a bit more proof from a close relative.
Facebook, like Apple, allows you to set a Legacy contact. If you have a Facebook account, go create one right now. I’ll wait.
The person you name as a legacy contact can manage your mostly-frozen account, can download a copy of what you shared if you gave that extra permission, and can delete/moderate posts made to your wall. There can be a Tribute section set up on your page.
Or, you can choose to have your account completely deleted on your death, and your legacy contact can see that it happens, with less hassle than if you didn’t set the preference ahead of time.
Apple has recently (late August, early September) released security updates across all their supported platforms and OSs for some pretty serious vulnerabilities. If you haven’t updated for a while, check Software Update soon and apply what’s recommended. There may be new OS versions coming out as soon as tomorrow (September 7, 2022) which you may not want to be early for – but at least updating to the latest version of macOS Monterey (12.5.1) and iOS/iPadOS 15.6.1 will keep things safe.