5 easy ways to protect your digital data

·6 min read

Now that your world has become increasingly digitalized – from photos and videos to music and podcasts to videogames and ebooks – it’s no surprise you’re running out of storage on your devices.

How are you backing up all your important files?

Not only does backing up allow you to free space on, say, a laptop or tablet; you’re also protecting these files from threats such as a virus, damaging power surge, theft, fire or flood, and so on.

You know the adage: You don’t know what you got until it’s gone. What better time than World Backup Day, March 31, to safeguard your files?

We have many affordable ways to do it, and you don’t need a degree in computer engineering to pull it off. Focusing on laptops and desktops, the following are five solutions and the pros and cons for each.

External hard drive

If you have a lot of files, an external hard disc drive (HDD) is for you.

Pick up a 2 terabyte (2TB) external drive (roughly 2,000 gigabytes) for as low as $59 for the WD Easystore or the Seagate Portable. That’s a lot of bang for the buck, from big names in this space.

An external hard drive is ideal for media such as videos, which can be huge files.

Some are “portable” drives, such as the above-mentioned models, which means they’re smaller and draw power from the computer’s USB port. Others are “desktop” drives, which are meant for stationary use and require an AC outlet.

Some drives are called NAS (network attached storage), which plug into your router or modem or join via Wi-Fi, kind of like your own private cloud.

Hard drives are great for large files, but they’re not as fast as solid-state drives (see below), and they could die over time, so it’s key to have duplicates or triplicates of these external drives – and keep them somewhere other than near your PC. Why? In the event of a fire or flood, the backups could be destroyed along with the original.

PHONE POWER:Why you shouldn't close idle apps and other ways to save your phone's data and battery

OKTA HACK:Okta denies data breach after hackers claim they gained access to internal information

Solid-state drive (SSD)

A solid-state drive (SSD) offers several benefits over a hard drive.

For one, SSDs are much faster when saving information to the drive, as well as accessing data from it. Part of this reason is the fact SSDs do not have any moving parts, opposed to spinning magnetic platters inside hard drives.

Because SSDs have no moving parts, they’re much quieter to run than a hard drive. Solid-state drives are much smaller and lighter and don’t require as much power, which translates to better battery life on a laptop between charges.

SSDs are more durable and less prone to damage than HDDs, which is key if you’re on the go, such as on vacation, when you back up your captured images.

SSDs tend to cost more than a hard drive yet don’t hold as many files.

Recommended: My Passport SSD from WD starts at $105 for 500 GB and goes up to 4TB ($449). Connect it to a PC or Mac via USB 3.0, for data transfer speeds up to 1,050MB/second. They’re shock- and vibration-resistant and drop-resistant up to 6.5 feet.

Cloud backup

Because your files are stored offsite, cloud services – such as Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox or Amazon Photos – can protect your data from threats.

You can securely access all your backed-up stuff from virtually any internet-connected computer, tablet or smartphone anywhere in the world. Most cloud services have free apps that make it easy to download or upload files from your mobile device.

The cloud can reduce congestion in someone’s inbox, as opposed to, say, trying to email a 25MB attachment.

THE RIGHT STORAGE:Apple, Google or Microsoft? How to match cloud storage to your computers – and cut costs

Though certainly convenient, cloud services give you only a few gigabytes for free; therefore, you’re left with paying a monthly subscription for a company to store your files. This can add up, and once you stop paying, you’re without your own files. You’re essentially renting space.

Apple’s iCloud+, for example, costs $0.99/month for 50GB, $2.99/month for 200GB and $9.99/month for 2TB.

Remember, you’ll need an internet connection to access your files.

USB stick, SD cards

If you don't have a lot of files, pick up one or two inexpensive USB thumb drives (aka “jump drives,” “flash drives” or “USB sticks”) or SD memory cards – with, say, 16 or 32 gigabytes. Drag and drop the important files from your computer onto these drives before storing them in a safe place.

If your laptop has an SD (or smaller microSD) slot on the side, then pop in a card and keep it there all the time, and nothing will stick out.

A SanDisk Cruzer Glide 32GB USB drive is only $8.99, but remember that your desktop or laptop needs a USB A port, opposed to the newer and smaller USB Type-C.

Some versatile USB flash drives, such as the 64GB Lexar USB ($12.69), have both a USB A and USB C connector (on each side of the drive).

Reuse instead of recycle

Finally, do you have an old computer in the closet? A digital photo frame? Or maybe a tablet, old smartphone or iPod touch? You can use its internal drive as a backup solution.

Especially ideal if cash is tight, repurposing a device with memory that you already own means you don’t have to run out to buy anything new or pay for a cloud service.

Simply use a USB thumb drive or external hard drive to transfer files over to the old device – maybe an Android phone with a broken screen – to your computer via USB to transfer content between them.

Backup summary

It doesn’t really matter how you back up your files, so long as you do it – and regularly.

Personally, I hedge my bets between offline external storage (usually SSDs) and online cloud services (OneDrive), plus I use EdgeRover software to automatically copy files over to any connected external media at 3 a.m. daily, when I’m not using my machine.

Happy World Backup Day!

Follow Marc on Twitter for his “Tech Tip of the Day” posts: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How to backup data: From cloud to flash drive, 5 ways to protect data

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting