Protecting Data In The Eye Of The Storm
Erin Z. Basss
Most people know to stockpile food and water, maybe board up windows and gather their pets when a hurricane is coming, but what about intangible property stored on the computer or smartphone? Electronic data and intellectual property is often overlooked during storm preparations. Should you lose power or experience a surge, personal and business information may not be easily accessible and could be lost forever if you don’t take the proper precautions.
“The most important thing to stress is backups,” says Bryan Fuselier, CTO with Aristotle’s Alexander, which offers innovative systems and software solutions for its clients. “You definitely want to have multiple copies of your data. If the only place to get to your data is on your computer, you’re just asking for trouble.”
Fuselier has 20 years of IT experience in the Acadiana market and was responsible for building the Travis Technology Center in Lafayette following Hurricane Katrina. “Back then, cloud computing was a very new concept,” he says. “The offsite solution was very big in people’s minds because of Katrina and how long they were out.”
Following Katrina, evacuees from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast didn’t have access to their personal data like financial and medical records, especially if they couldn’t return home for weeks or months. Businesses who found their computers and equipment submerged in water after the storm were in danger of losing everything, unless they had a sufficient backup system. Many did not.
These days, backups and cloud storage aren’t as foreign a concept, but people may not realize they could be keeping their data safe for free or very little cost. Fuselier says for most people, this mainly involves photos and personal documents. Storage options like Google Drive (free with a Google account) and Dropbox (free for 2 GB of space) are easy to use and offer enough storage for home use.
For larger storage needs, he recommends purchasing a USB backup drive from places like Office Depot or Best Buy and syncing it to your devices. “The storage drive is actually the most reliable, because you unplug it and you leave it off in the corner somewhere and it doesn’t have power, so it’s just sitting there safe,” he says.
Online services in the cloud are also very reliable because they’re storing your information across multiple data centers across the world. Once you get back online after a storm, your data is guaranteed to be there.
Unlimited cloud backup solutions such as Backblaze, Carbonite and Crashplan can protect personal data for as little as $5 a month. And because these services run continuously, there is no need to remember to run your backups on a particular schedule or sync to devices.
Privacy concerns are addressed by strong encryption of the data before it even leaves your computer. In the event of a total home disaster, you can purchase new computer equipment, knowing your data is safe and can be downloaded back to your new devices.
“As far as cloud services and backing up, I would argue that they are just as safe as sitting on a computer in your house these days,” says Fuselier. “A lot of people like to find cloud storage that is far enough away from hurricane alley to not be affected so that they can still have access to the data if they have to relocate during a major storm.”
It’s also a good idea to occasionally test your backup system by retrieving a photo or document. This familiarizes you with the recovery process when things are not critical and tests that your backup system is working and is adequate.
Launched in 2003, Ready.gov is part of a campaign by the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies including natural and manmade disasters. The site also helps business owners and managers prepare their employees, operations and assets in the event of an emergency and encourages them to develop an IT disaster recovery plan.
While families should have a hurricane plan of their own that includes data, the first step for businesses is compiling an inventory of hardware, software applications and data. A disaster recovery plan should also include a strategy to ensure that all critical information is backed up.
Fuselier says not nearly enough businesses take the time to do this, and even small companies can create a plan and get their data backed up for as little as $1,000.
“We have a lot of our documents that are synchronized across everybody’s computers and stored with Microsoft in the cloud,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if we lose a computer or anything, we just fire it back up, log in and we can synchronize all of our data back.”
As for protecting actual hardware and equipment, elevating computers and hard drives to protect them from flooding is important, but Fuselier also recommends a good surge protector. For extra security, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), available for as little as $44 on Amazon, can also do the job.
Still, the safest and most foolproof way to keep your computer safe is to unplug it and leave it turned off until the storm passes. In the interim, your smartphone can serve as a way to get emergency information and communicate with loved ones, so a rechargeable battery pack ($11.99 and up) would come in handy should you lose power for more than a day.
When it comes to developing a hurricane plan of your own, Fuselier advises first considering the type of data you’re storing and how critical it is to you. “If you lose a hundred pictures, how devastating is that?” he asks. “You really want to consider the value of what you’re trying to keep.”