Performing data backups: Check IT List

Here are several critical steps to take to ensure your backups are in tiptop shape so they'll be there when you need them.

Data backup is perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect your business information in the event of a hardware failure, accidental deletion, theft or -- even worse -- a fire, hurricane or other natural disaster. There are several critical steps to take to ensure your backups are in tiptop shape so they'll be there when you need them:

  1. Test your backups often. This is the biggest mistake I see related to data backups -- especially with tape backups -- and it always seems to bite you at the worst time. Tapes go bad, and data can become corrupt or get erased altogether. It's extremely important to test your backups by doing a test restore (to a secondary location) to ensure your backup media is accessible and the data is in good shape. Do this with every tape or disk you back up to on a periodic basis, such as once a month. It takes only a few minutes, but the task can be priceless. Document the steps for testing your backups. This information can come in handy in case you're out or if you need to figure out how to get your data back in a disaster recovery situation.

  2. Rotate your backup media. This seems obvious, but it's very important for two reasons. First, you can go back a day, a week or even a month, depending on your rotation schedule. At least have a tape, image, DVD or some other media type for each day of the week. Consider having four different "Friday" tapes so you can go back an entire month if necessary. Second, backup media, especially tapes, can wear out over time. If you use the same tape every day, it increases your chances of not getting good backups.

  3. Keep your backup software updated. Software vendors often release software updates that fix certain problems with backup schedulers, data integrity and so on, so make sure you keep your software up to date. Some vendors rarely update their software. You'd think this means the software is almost perfect, but it's usually the other way around. It's normal for software vendors to release updates on a periodic basis, so make sure you're always running the latest version.

  4. Don't place backup tapes near monitors or uninterruptible power supplies. Electromagnetic fields coming from computer monitors, uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) and even printers can corrupt data on backup tapes or erase it altogether.

  5. Store your backup media in a fireproof media safe. It's OK to leave your backup tapes, disks or other backup media on site if you can keep them stored in a fireproof media safe. Backup media can melt or burn at a lower temperature than paper and other belongings you might store in a regular fireproof safe. Be sure to look for safes that are made specifically for media. Their special design would keep the inside of the safe cooler for longer than a standard fireproof safe would. If you take your media off site, be careful not to leave it in a hot automobile or subject it to drastic temperature changes very quickly, as these can defeat the purpose of your protection.

  6. Keep your backup software in a safe place. If your software license allows it (most do), make a copy of your backup software and keep it in a fireproof safe or off site in case you misplace it or lose it in a disaster. This copy will be one of the first things you need to restore your backup.

  7. Password-protect your backup media. This can help keep the data from unauthorized access in the event of theft. Some backup software even supports encryption, so consider that, as well. It'll take more time for the backup, but it will be more secure.

  8. Clean your tape drive. If you use a tape drive for backups, it's imperative to run a cleaning tape in the drive once a month or as frequently as the drive manufacturer recommends. This will lengthen the life of the tape drive and tapes and also improve the integrity of the data being written to the tape; if the head is dirty, the data that can be written to the tape, if any at all, will be corrupt.

  9. Automate your backups. Unfortunately, we get busy and can easily forget to perform a backup. If your software supports it, automate your backups so you don't have to worry about it every day.

  10. Don't forget about open files. If files are left open by the program accessing them, they're usually not backed up or backed up properly. Either close out all of the programs that may keep data files loaded or use backup software that supports the backup of open files.
Kevin Beaver is founder and principal consultant of the information security services firm Principle Logic LLC, based in Atlanta, where he specializes in information security assessments and incident response. He has more than 16 years of experience in IT and is the author of the new book Hacking For Dummies by Wiley Publishing. Kevin can be reached at kbeaver@principlelogic.com.
This was first published in September 2004

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