WOOF! Newsletter

January 10, 2017

Sorry! A USB Drive is Not a Safe Business Backup

Where are your backups stored? If they're on an external drive in the server room, your data is still at risk. Start 2017 off right—make sure your backups are tested, reliable, and off-site!

When asked where their backups are stored, businesses often gesture to an external drive sitting next to a server.

As IT professionals, we have to cringe. 

Why?  Isn’t a USB the simplest form of backup out there?  Yes it is.  But simplest doesn’t mean safest.

Backups are meant to preserve your data.  To allow you to restore files when hardware fails, or after an emergency (server crash, natural disaster, fire, hacking, theft).  Much like real estate, the key to safe backups is “Location, Location, Location.”

If there’s a fire at your office, a backup drive next to the computer means both get melted down.  You have no hope of saving those files.  While fire’s an extreme example, you can see the risk of limiting backups to one drive, especially in the same physical location. 

The Risks of Using an External USB Drive for Backups


  • No encryption.  USB drives typically use the native Microsoft backup utility—which has no encryption by default.  Anyone who has the drive (or hacks into your network) can access all of its data.
  • Slow speeds.  Most servers only support USB 2.0 connections, which transfers data at about 60 megabytes per second.  Ethernet can backup/restore data at about 100 megabytes per second—almost twice as fast. 
  • Vulnerable to power surges.
  • Doesn’t backup email (by default). 
    • Local copies of email are only stored for a certain amount of time (depending on the configuration) by email servers.  Imagine having to retrieve important emails…only to find they were wiped months ago.
  • Unreliable for accounting system backups (i.e., QuickBooks). 
  • Vulnerable to theft.  Your only backup shouldn’t fit into a burglar’s (or terminated employee’s) pocket.
  • Drive death.  What if your backups are on a single external USB drive, and that drive dies?  Your backups go bye-bye.  Typical lifespan of a USB backup drive is 2 years.
  • Deleted doesn’t always mean gone.  Say you replace a 128GB USB drive with one that holds 500GB.  You’ll likely delete the files from the old drive and throw it away, right?   Unfortunately, a determined hacker can restore those deleted files.

How to Make Backups Reliable

Keeping more than one set of backups was costly and difficult only a few years ago.  But thankfully, improvements to cloud security and faster Internet speeds have made it much easier.

Now we have many options for safe, reliable backups.  Here are our recommendations for keeping yours safe & secure.

  1. Keep two sets of backups, including one off-site.  In the cloud is best.  But stored at another physical location is okay, too (i.e., take backup tapes or devices off-site daily).
  2. Insist on encryption.  Most cloud backup services are encrypted by default, which automatically makes them a safer option.
    1. For physical drives, make sure it has encryption enabled to protect the data in case of theft.
  3. Configure backups to include email.  If you make sure backups include the email server database, you’ll have redundant backups covering all saved emails.  (This is especially important if you must comply with SOX or HIPAA regulations.)
  4. If you replace a backup drive, make sure to destroy the data on it.  The Raymond Tech Resource Blog has compiled a list of 10 Free Tools to Permanently Delete Files and Prevent Data Recovery.  Or just grab a hammer and a punch tool.  Pound a hole through the drive and it’s destroyed.
  5. Check backups on a daily basis.  Check the backup logs to ensure today’s backup job was successful.  If not, submit a new job or troubleshoot the issue before the next backup job occurs.
  6. Schedule a reminder to conduct a test restore.  Every month is best, but at least every quarter.  Backup processes are automated, but they can fail.  What if your server crashes, and your last usable backup was 6 months ago?  Can you recreate all of the data your company generated since then? 
Ask your IT department or IT consultant to test and verify your backups.  When your backups are off-site and encrypted, they become the only true protection you have against hardware failures or network breaches.

Start 2017 Right with Reliable, Safe Backups

Make this your New Year’s Resolution:  Get two sets of reliable backups running!  Your business’ data deserves all the backup protection it can get.

No one wants a breach or disaster to happen, but if it does, backups are how you keep your business secure.

Have an IT question you’d like us to tackle in 2017?  Email us at woof@planetmagpie.com and we’ll put it on the WOOF! topics list.