Offline and Offsite Backups

One of the worst problems with digital content is that it is a lot. It’s a lot of clutter while at the same time it certainly contains data that we consider important enough to keep. Backing up any of it is and will probably always be a problem for the majority of people. We all agree though on one thing: backup, backup, and backup your data.

tl;dr It’s important to know what data you have, which of it means enough for you to take backing it up seriously. This blog posts focusses on storing a secondary backup offsite. Meaning it’s a duplicate of your most recent backup, stored offline, away from where you live. Yes, encrypt it.

Through various means you can easily back-up a lot of your digital content already.

Dropbox as cloud storage, or a more professional and more secure solution like Carbonite. The cost involved depends on how much you’re going to upload to the cloud. The inconvenience depends on how fast your upstream connection to the Internet is. The security depends on which cloud service you use and what steps you take to encrypt the data properly.

Time-machine from Apple or some external drive with backup software can help you to automatically backup your data as you go. The cost involved is the drive you buy. The inconvenience is the speed between the system and the drive (like an old firewire400 port versus modern thunderbolt2 port). The security depends on you turning on disk encryption and how you handle the drives.

To store offline (disconnected from the Interne) and offsite (away from where you live) is the trickiest one of them all. It requires you to do almost everything manually, and you have to think about what you store, who you share the hardware with, and know how to encrypt your data. But it’s the backup to the backup solution. And I kind of want to tell you it’s just as important to have. Life sucks, shit can go wrong.

I am sorry if you’re a Windows user, I have no interest in supporting it – so please just skim through it and go buy an Apple solution or Google for the Windows equivalent.

Apple Mac OSX users can buy a fast external hard drive that doesn’t require software to be used. You want to just plug it in and use it after a partition and format. Limit it’s use to Mac systems only – you’re Mac, your first security is that naughty people on Windows can’t even mount it. And when they do, the data is unreadable because step two (I will come to that in a second).

By the way, make sure the drive has a USB connection on it. If your next system doesn’t have Thunderbolt, or any of the other fancy fast plugs, at least USB all the way down to version 2 will work on almost every Mac system.

Okay, and I really feel this is important: Encrypt. Mount the drive again, select it and right-click on it. Select to Encrypt it. Set a password only you know, that you can figure out again when you forget about it. But that’s different than the login to the system. And if it ever asks you to store it in Keychain or to remember it, just say no. Remember it in your brain, the trust-no-one solution.

Once the drive is ready to be used on OSX, mounted, encrypted, and empty. It’s time to backup your data to it. Which documents do you wish to always keep, 1Password backup files perhaps? Any images, music, or private folders and/or projects? Any work information? Go through the file system and see if you can find stuff that means a lot to you. Store it on the drive perhaps under a folder called /manual/ with inside it some sub-folders for easy finding. The reason I always take a manual backup is so I don’t have to put my full trust in the automated backup systems.

These folders are just examples, but I sort my pictures by moving them to a private folder, from where I pick out pictures I know I have 100% no problem with sharing with the public and move those into the pictures/public/ folder. And my personal folder is private data that could be shared on the net very selectively. Like a screenshot in Dropbox or music with a friend. But private folders are to stay offline at all times, content in there isn’t mean for the public. Like work files or that love letter to yogi the bear. For all I case you dump it all in one huge folder called “Do Not Delete”.

Okay, the next step is to use any automated software like Apple’s time machine and let it do it’s magic. Whatever it backs up (or doesn’t), at least you know you have a manual backup of data that you can remember is super important to you.

Side note: I am using those LaCie drives that are in a sturdy hard-case with power over USB, it’s a USB3 drive, and they come in thick orange bumpers to prevent water damage and catch some of the fall damage. It’s not an SSD (because it seems unplugged SSD degrade so much faster over time when they don’t get power). These drives do not require some special installations and work great with old and new OSX releases.

The next step is to select the drive when it’s done and eject it to unmount. Then unplug the cable and mark the cable with a sticker “offsite backup drive cable”, and the same for the power cable, if any. Put another sticker or just write straight on the drive “offsite backup drive” Optionally with a normal pen you can write down the date if you want.

And that’s it. Almost, the final step is to store it offsite somewhere. Talk to a family member you can trust, or keep it in a safety deposit box at a bank, or whatever makes you feel comfortable. Tell them to not use the drive, as it is a backup to your digital data which means a lot to you. Let them tell you where they store it so you can find it again easily.

Side note: If you don’t trust your memory by the way, make a secure note in 1Password app called ‘offsite backups’ where you write down the date, who has the drive, and perhaps even the password to decrypt the drive.

Pfff, a lot of work, and it sounds very techy, but please understand it’s even more work, and real tears if your place burns down, or gets broken into, or something like Dropbox goes bankrupt (tends to happen with startups) and you are simply put shit out of luck. Your will no longer have access to your computer, the normal backups are gone, and no access to your online backups. Worst case scenario. Which can be solved with a visit to the bank or your family member, and the Apple store. You get a new system, mount the offsite drive, enter the password and all your important data from the last time you made an offsite backup is all there.

Before I go and end this blog, let’s take a step back.

Know what’s on your system. Store your important data twice. Maybe clone it to the other hard drive in the system. If one of the drives fail, you have a copy of it on the other hard drive. Learn where is what. And don’t forget that some data might be in the cloud, like iCloud, or Dropbox, etc.

Consider what to store in the cloud. If you value the videos of the birth of your child, but certainly don’t want to embarrass the misses giving birth. Perhaps don’t store those files in the cloud for backup. We all know companies get hacked or data gets leaked. Think twice, and realise a trust-no-one offline solution is probably the best. And a real duplicate copy nearby is easier to access than a far away download on a service you put your trust in. So perhaps get a quality external hard drive (with at least USB3) for offline backups.

And perhaps consider using Apple’s time machine feature. You can point it to the external hard drive and it keeps track of everything automatically. It really is the easiest way to restore a contact, find that document again, and when the system breaks you get a new one, plug the time machine drive in it and click restore. Anything it might have missed is on that (or another) hard drive in that /manual/ folder.

And finally, use the cloud! Not for everything, but there is a lot you can use the cloud for to secure your data. 1Password and Dropbox are a must have in my book. They work on Windows and Mac, Android and iOS.

– You put a login in the 1Password app, and it syncs between your devices. If your phone or macbook breaks, re-install the app on the replacement macbook, sync from the cloud and it’s all there again. Can’t get any easier.

– Any picture you take with your mobile device can get uploaded to Dropbox automatically. If your device gets stolen you can go to and wipe it remotely to keep your data safe. But you basically don’t have to worry about losing those moments as the photos are on Dropbox. Which syncs with your other devices that have Dropbox installed. (Also a great way to quickly transfer them to your iMac or MacBook by the way).

Okay, quick TODO: Get a reliable external harddrive with at least USB3 on it. Mount it on your Mac, encrypt it, and back up to it. Unplug it, label it properly, and store it offline and offsite.

Final note: You can backup automatically, or manually, as often as you want. Just remember: Any data between the last time you backed up and you losing it now … is gone! And don’t forget, you might have multiple devices, including mobile devices with data on it that requires to be backed up as well.