Data, or access to data, stored on a personal computer, phone or tablet can be lost, often without any warning.

Important: Hardware failure, breakage, theft or even malware infection (such as ransomware) can make recovering your data expensive or impossible. You must be able to backup and restore your data.

Make frequent backups

We recommend doing regular backups of your important files (such as documents or photos). The more frequent, the better.

Many backup services offer an option to automatically schedule backups, so it’s easy to perform them daily or weekly.

It’s also recommended that backups are performed shortly after completing a virus scan.

Use an external hard drive

We recommend backing up all your important files (such as documents or photos) using an external hard drive. The backup services with operating systems let you choose the location for backups, such as an external storage device or cloud service.

Luckily, using the backup service through your operating system is very easy. Visit the following websites to learn how to do this:

Watch our simple backup guide if you're operating on Windows 7 or 8:

Windows backup animation


Some backup applications are also offered with external storage devices. If you would prefer to use one of these applications, consider reading online reviews of storage devices to determine which product will suit your needs.

Ideally, use encryption to protect your files on the external hard drive if the option is available, and store the drive in another physical location, such as at work or a friend or family member’s home.

Storing copies of your files off-site provides added protection. That way, if some physical harm comes to your computer (say fire or theft) you will still have access to your important files.

If at all possible, use two external drives and regularly swap between one you keep at home and another you store at a different location. If this isn’t possible, consider hedging your bets by also using a cloud backup option.

Use the cloud

The cloud can act as a remote or off-site storage location for backups. There are two main options:

  • Use online (cloud) storage for your important files
  • Use an online (cloud) backup service.

Cloud is a popular method for backing up smartphones, as you can also schedule them to happen automatically. Cloud backups can be done in a few simple steps - check out our smartphone backup guides:

Android backup animation

Apple iOS backup animation

Cloud storage

Cloud storage options let you store files in the cloud so that you can access them at any time from any device that can connect to the internet.

Many cloud storage services provide a free option for smaller amounts of storage, or may charge a fee if your storage requirements are larger. These services often work by creating synchronised copies of your files in the cloud when you save them to a special or designated folder on your computer or device.

Ideally, choose a cloud storage provider that uses encryption to protect your files from theft during transfer and storage, and provides two-factor authentication or verification for access to your files. Don’t forget to set a strong password and check the service’s terms of service and privacy policy.

Important: Don’t store highly sensitive documents in the cloud without encrypting them first!

Cloud backup services

A cloud backup service works more like a traditional backup, but rather than storing your files on an external drive, stores your files in the cloud. Once you’ve subscribed to the service and installed the application, these services will automatically backup the selected files to the cloud. Some of these services can also backup your entire computer, although note that this could have negative effects on your internet connection – it can take a long time to upload every single one of your files.

Again, make sure the solution you choose uses encryption during transfer and storage, and ideally provides two-factor authentication for access.

Protect yourself from ransomware: Choose a backup service that keeps multiple versions of your files, similar to an external hard drive backup application. That way, if ransomware encrypts your files, and those files are automatically backed up, you can still revert to an earlier version.

Test your ability to recover

Regardless of which combination of backup solutions you choose, it’s important to occasionally test that you can recover and restore your files. That way, when things go wrong, you’ll know exactly what to do.

This also gives you a chance to check that your backups are functioning correctly and including all the files you need.

Where to get help

If you do find yourself in a position where you have to restore your files from backup you may need to seek further technical advice.

If you’re unfortunate enough to be a victim of malicious software, see our ransomware or restoring your data pages for more advice on recovering your computer and valuable files.

For more detailed information on backups and creating a backup policy, see backups for business.