World Backup Day

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who have lost data due to a system crash, and those who will. — Mike Epstein

What would you do if next time you turn on your computer, instead of the Windows, Mac or Linux boot screen, instead, you saw something like this:


or the equally scary


You’ll check the hard drive, discover it had failed in some way, taking all your valuable data, those photos from that “once in a lifetime” holiday, pictures of your children when they were little, and many other irreplaceable files with it.

Now, this story can go one of two ways and it depends on the answer to the next question – the first question I ask if someone asks me for help after a disk failure, or a virus attack, or they get one of those “ransomware” malware attacks

“when was your last good backup?”

It’s simple, if you have a good backup, when the inevitable happens, and your drive crashes, or a power spike fries your PC, or you spill coffee on your laptop, or you get infected by “drive by” malware, then the incident is just a nuisance – maybe an expensive, time-consuming nuisance if your laptop is destroyed, but you know your valuable data is safe.

Right now – do you know that your data is safe?

Today is World Backup Day – so if you don’t have a backup plan, make one and act on it, if you do have a backup plan check it and make sure it’s working.

Also keep in mind that your backup itself can fail, so there’s this mantra that I use when I’m making backups

You can never have too many backups

A well planned and tested backup approach changes a total computer failure from being an utter catastrophe and the loss of all your photos, videos, documents, and makes it a minor annoyance as you replace the equipment and restore.

I use a mixture of backup approaches depending on the data – irreplaceable photos and the like are backed up to an external USB drive, but that won’t protect the data against events like fire or flood, so that data is secondarily backed up (in an encrypted form) to a cloud backup provider (actually an Amazon S3 account) – I  know that whatever may happen to my computers, I can retrieve that data – all I need do is buy a new machine, and log on.

I also recommend CrashPlan as a PC to PC backup product, but the two important things for a backup are simply this – that it’s done, and that’s it’s restorable.  The second point is just as important as the first – I hear far too often that people are taking backups, or that they think they are, but they never check the contents of the backup files until it’s too late.  It doesn’t matter if you’re backing up to USB sticks, blank DVD’s, a spare hard drive, or the really old-school floppy disk…  if your backup isn’t tested, you can’t know it’ll work when the time comes to use it for real – and that time will come.

It’s not a case of “if”, it’s a case of “when”

I’ve taken the pledge, why don’t you too:

I solemnly swear to backup my important documents and precious memories on March 31st. I will also tell my friends and family about World Backup Day – friends don’t let friends go without a backup.


Reliant on the Cloud

1140171_messages_5This mornings well publicised outage of Googles email service has made me thing “what if…” regarding all the other “cloud” services I use.  Yes, Gmail was only down for 3 hours, but what if it had just disappeared.  What about Flickr.  What about Google Documents.

I need a backup strategy for this stuff, and a way to automate it (certainly for gMail anyway), and need to seriously consider moving my “cloud” based document storage (nothing vital, but would be annoying to lose it) off the cloud and back onto a physical machine.   Ideally without losing the ability to edit it from any net connected PC.

Email is (fairly) easy to back up – I guess I should be able to use POP or IMAP to pull email from Googles servers and store it somewhere locally – ideally within some kind of free mail server, so I could access the archive with nothing more than a standard POP3 client (like Thunderbird).

I have a Windows Home Server sitting at home, that I must be able to use for this kind of thing – I’ll need to look for a free/open source mail server that can pull mail over POP3 and store and serve it to other POP3 clients.  Anyone out there got any thoughts?

I’ll deal with email first – and then think about how to do something about the documents and photos too (although most of my photos are uploaded to Flickr from my PC, and the originals are all backed up…


The Facebook Beacon (and why it’s a bad idea)

Facebook have introduced a new data harvesting system to assist in targetting advertising to it’s users, using 3rd party websites to gather data on their behalf.

With the help of some clever javascript, and some co-operative 3rd party websites who have embedded this javascript into their pages, they can now update your facebook profile for you when you do things.  At the moment this is done with your consent – the little popup (if you spot it) gives you the option to deny – but you can’t completely block the facility from within your facebook privacy settings – you can block it on a site by site basis, but only after the fact -a site has to have already sent an update to your account before it appears in your privacy settings.

Scary stuff. How to stop this happening to you is after the “more” link… Continue reading


Spam Entertainment

Occasionally I get these “fake lottery” SPAM email messages slip through the net and actually reach my mailbox – but this one made me laugh…

This is to inform you that you have been selected for a cash prize of £300,000.00 (Three Hundred Thousand Great British Pounds) and a brand new Peugeot 407 Car,From the International online programs held on the 26th of April 2007 in London the United Kingdom .

Now, if I had 300 grand, I wouldn’t be driving around in a Peugeot, I can think of several far more “fun” cars to spend money on… Especially after my previous experiences with Peugeot cars!

The email then carries on with the usual rubbish, including a form to send to an address, which is (not) surprisingly not at a domain owned by Peugeot, but is in fact on Yahoo Mail. The form naturally asks for a ton of personal information normally asked for by people wanting to steal your identity.

I can’t beleive anyone falls for these – simply by the very fact that the “company”claiming you’ve won aren’t even using their own domain, but are using a well-known, free webmail provider.


Worried about ID Theft? No? Why not?

Are you worried about identify theft – the act of criminals obtaining credit (in other words, running up debts) in your name – debts which you are responsible for and appear on your credit rating?


Really No?

Watch this from the BBC.

Now are you worried?

Think about the stuff you throw away – how much of it has your name, address, bank account number, credit card number (or part of it) on – now think about that reciept from the petrol station – that’s got (part of) your credit card number on it, put it in the same bin as something which just has your address on – and that information that can be put together to identify you.

I’m already in the habit of shredding anything I throw away which has my name, address, or is a receipt. Even just a petrol receipt. If you aren’t – you should get into that habit. Really Quickly.

Also, be wary of phone calls asking for personal information – I had one from a marketing company – “I’m calling on behalf of ****card – are you Mr Marshall, yes, good, can you confirm that by telling me your date of birth and last 4 digits of your card number.” – My answer – “NO, you called me – I have no guarantee you’re from ****card – I’m not giving you personal information”. Her reply – “I can assure you I’m calling from ****card” – no, she wasn’t. The callerID display gave me a number which I called back – it was a marketing company, not my credit card company.

I then called my card suppliers customer services line – it turned out this was a legitimate marketing call – they’d passed my details onto this 3rd party marketing company in order to ask me if I still wanted to be opted out of their junkmail and sales calls. Yes, despite being opted out, they passed me details to another company, and got that company to pretend to be them, call me, lie outright, and try to get me to sign back up to marketing junk.

I will be closing my account as soon as possible – I will not deal with companies that abuse my trust.

Don’t forget the other old favourite scam – “I’m calling from your mobile phone provider – would you like a free upgrade.” – reply is “Who are you calling on behalf of?” – “my mobile phone company?” – “who is my mobile phone company?” – “you don’t know?” – “so how are you calling on their behalf if you don’t even know who they are?”