Developing A Backup Strategy
Having information backed up on a regular basis MUST not be overlooked. Don’t let it be lost on your watch! Backups play an important role in preventing data loss. Information is a crucial resource that your government entity must maintain. Having a backup strategy in place is important for any organization regardless of size. Backups are simply a copy of all files. This may seem like a relatively straightforward topic but the details are important.
If your organization had unlimited resources you could have the most sophisticated, high tech method of protecting your information. Most organizations don’t have this luxury. Fortunately, many of the steps that can be taken to protect financial information are relatively inexpensive. The investment in backups is minimal when you begin to think about the amount of time it would take to re-create financial information. If critical information is lost it may take days, weeks, or months of time to re-create this information.
Why backup your data?
I will be the first to admit that I HATE doing work twice. Having to re-do work after a system failure, security breach, or natural disaster is 99.9% avoidable. By having a backup system in place you will avoid having to re-do work if something happens to your data. Computers are machines, and machines eventually breakdown. Almost everyone has likely experienced this with cars. Computers will inevitably fail or need to be replaced. I have personally experienced the blue screen of death and I thanked myself for cloud storage when that occurred.
As technology continues to improve, the methods that cyber-criminals use to commit malicious acts will evolve. Cyber attacks are making the news often. Having a system in place that allows you to wipe hard drives and restore critical data IF a cyber attack occurs may save you time and money. Additionally, natural disasters can have a significant impact. Technological advances have made offsite cloud backups a reasonable investment for most entities.
If you’re not sure how to convey the importance of backups to elected officials or other members of management, think about how much time it would take to completely rebuild information. Having to recreate information and the inability to provide accurate and up to date information may take months. The time you spend having to re-create data will take a massive amount of your time. This is VALUABLE time that could be spent doing other tasks.
How to back up your data?
There are many types of backup systems that you could utilize. Depending on the size of your entity may influence the complexity of the backup system utilized. Listed below are common types of backup methods.
- External Hard Drive: External hard drives connect directly to your computer. These devices can come with encryption and are relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost needed to completely rebuild data. There are other physical drives like flash drives that can function as a backup.
- Cloud Storage: There are many cloud providers who offer storage solutions. Think Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, etc… Cloud storage is critical in the case of a natural disaster where everything may be lost (this is not technically a “backup” but allows for access to documents anytime, anywhere).
- Backup Services: Again there are many companies that provide backup services (including BIAS!). Many of these have cloud capabilities.
This is by no means an exclusive list. Find a method that works for you and protects your entity’s information. I would recommend utilizing a combination of cloud storage and physical drive storage. Along with paper records, your entity can be covered if disaster strikes. Whether that be a natural disaster, cyber attack, or computer failure, the preservation of data is critical to the continuation of your entity. The costs that will be spent on backing up your data are minimal compared to the cost to re-create significant amounts of information.
How often should data be backed up?
Determining how often you should back up your data is dependent upon the needs of your entity. Consider how long it would take you to rebuild your data if everything was lost from the last time a backup occurred. There are some entities that need to do multiple backups a day due to a significant amount of data being processed. Smaller entities may need to do backups less frequently. A good rule of thumb is to have backups done on a nightly basis.
What needs to be backed up?
Think about your entity’s types of data. There is data critical to the continuous operation of your entity. Financial data is one example. Depending on your entity, the type of information deemed critical will be different. Critical information needs to be backed up on a regular, frequent basis. You will also have information less critical and with limited changes. This may only need to be backed up when it changes.
Types of backups
There are a few common types of backups that entities may choose to utilize:
- Full backup – Every file is selected. An advantage to this is that all data is saved every time you perform a backup. It’s also easier to restore a full backup since all data is in one backup. The disadvantage is that depending on the amount of data you have, this backup could take A LONG time and consume data storage. For many smaller entities, this is likely not an issue. Larger entities may want to consider one of the other types of backups.
- Incremental backup – Only files changed since the last backup are stored. These are much quicker and use less storage space. It is more challenging to do a complete restore using incremental backups.
- Differential backup – Only files changed since the last FULL backup is saved. The restore process is quicker when using differential backups, but they can take up a significant amount of time and storage.
Test your backup system and procedures!
Don’t be lulled into thinking that just because you have a backup system it works. Make sure that you test the recovery process on occasion to ensure that data can be replaced in an effective and efficient manner. The maintenance season is a great time to perform a mock run. If you’re fortunate enough to have an IT department, ask them when the last time they restored information on your system.
How long to keep backed up data?
The main premise behind deciding how long to keep backed up data is: you never want to lose information and have to recreate it.
You don’t want to keep all the backups that you have ever done. This is impractical because you would eventually run out of storage space. You should also strive to have more than one backup saved in the event that one of the backups failed partway through. Your entity’s needs and assessed risk will influence how long you keep backups stored.