Hi everyone, I hope you all are well, healthy and happy.
I haven't written a blog in some time. The last few months have been very busy and I've been putting this on the long finger, as a result. So, now I've finally gotten down to it and the subject I've chosen to write on is why you should always back up your work. While I'm writing about photography, this rule applies to everything that you do on an electronic device.
In late August, my PC was attacked by a Crypto Locker. I had heard of them before but never met anyone who had been victim of one, so assumed that they were very rare but they are not.
What happens is, a programme infects your hard drive and enters every folder on it. Once there it encrypts everything in the folder and you are unable to open the image or file.
Two new items appear in each folder; one explains what has happened and tells you that you can't unlock the files, the other provides a link to a website, where you can pay money to the owners of the Crypto Locker, to unlock your files.
Some criminals will unlock your folders, once you've handed over the money, some will not. In my case, they were looking for €300 per folder, I have thousands of folders. Sub folders are counted as folders in this case. There was no way I could afford to pay them, even if I wanted to. There is also a very strong possibility that they wouldn't do as promised and I would still not be able to access my folders, after paying.
The possible combinations of codes used to lock the folders runs into millions, so it wasn't feasible to sit down and figure out which combination was used, even if I could break into the programme and control it.
I had no option but to format my hard drive. Even that wasn't a guarantee that the crypto locker would be gone. I was advised to format it at least three times, just to be sure.
So this left me with a major problem. Not only was I deleting the infected folders but I was also deleting all of my programmes, including Windows. Everything had to go, as the infection could be hidden anywhere.
You could find yourself in this situation for a number of other reasons too. A virus may wipe your hard drive clean or make it otherwise unusable. A power surge could wipe out your hard drive or destroy your device. It could be stolen. Something may be spilled on it, causing a short circuit. The list possibilities goes on and on.
What would you do? How much work and files would you loose? Could you come back from such a situation?
In many walks of life we take out insurance. You will, no doubt have your hardware insured but that will not restore lost files. The real insurance, in this case is to back up everything, regularly. I back up automatically everyday. When working on something important, like wedding images, I back up more regularly. Sometimes, every two to three hours.
You shouldn't rely on one form of back up either. A typical system is an external hard drive with your PC, one at another location and cloud back up. Nothing is infallible, so always have alternatives.
Back up several times a day onto your local external hard drive. For example, if designing a wedding book, back up every few pages. At the end of the day, ensure that all of your day's work is backed up, then disconnect the external hard drive from your device and disconnect the power. I have a fire proof storage cupboard for my cameras, my external hard drive goes in there at night. It's best to keep it in a different room to your PC or other device, when not in use.
Once a week or so, bring in the second external hard drive and back up everything new, since the last time. This should be taken away again immediately. I keep this at home.
This gives you two extra copies of everything, one at your work place and one at a remote location. Plus you will have anything that you are working on, on your PC or other device. In the event of a fire or break in, at least one of your copies will be secure.
The final step is to use cloud backup. This is now relatively cheap and there are several trustworthy providers. I have unlimited storage for two devices, for less that €100 per year. At present I have 85 TB stored on cloud. All of my images in RAW format, all JPGs, PSDs, TIFFs, edited and unedited are there. So also are all my accounts and related documents. In fact, everything that was on my PC for more than a day is there, except the crypto locker.
It's vital that you have this set up to back up every day. When doing important work, do a manual back up every few hours also.
How you configure this is also very important. When selecting folders and files to back up, make sure that all of your work will be backed up, completed or not. Similarly, when backing up to your external hard drives, ensure that everything is there. When you create a new set of folders be sure that they are also being backed up.
That point is where I made a major mistake. I had assumed that all new folders that I create would be backed up. That's not the case because I created some new folders outside of the range of what I had previously chosen to back up. In other words, they were not included in any of the lists selected. I should have reconfigured my back up systems, to include them, I didn't. The result was that when I formatted my hard drive, I deleted a lot of unfinished work. I was working on seven photobooks and they were all deleted. I had to start again, from scratch.
I tell you this as a warning. I have learned from my mistake, I hope you can too and not have to go through what I did.
The final point is that restoring your system is not easy or quick. Remember, I had to format my hard drive, so I had to restore every programme, including Windows. Some of these programmes are a few years old and the original copy had to be updated. This resulted in updates being downloaded, the PC being restarted and the next batch of updates being downloaded, the PC being restarted and on and on.
Eventually, you will think that it's all complete but a few days later, you do something that you haven't tried since formatting and the whole update process starts again, for hours. I'm not sure how many hours it took in total but it has put my work back some weeks.
So, that's my tale of woe. I hope it doesn't happen to you and that my story will spur you into regular, complete backups, if you are not doing it already.
Until the next time, take good care of yourself and the ones you love.