1. Safety Center: Security

Do I Need To Back Up My Computer?

Even if you've taken precautions to protect your computer from malicious software, other potential dangers could destroy the information it holds.  A power surge, lightning strike, hardware failure, or natural disaster could leave you without your important data or the use of your computer.

Backing up your files can help you avert disaster.  Backing up is simply making an electronic copy of files, and storing that copy in a safe place.  If you back up your files regularly, you can retrieve some of your information, if not all of it, if something happens to the originals on your computer.

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Some tips for backing up your computer:

  • Use an external hard disk, CDs, DVDs, or other storage medium for your backup copies. Or upload data to an Internet-based file-storage service. Whatever you do, don't just copy files to another location on your hard disk.
  • Label the medium with the date and time of the backup.  Don't erase the previous backup until you have made a new one. 
  • Back up anything you can't replace easily, such as financial information, digital photos, music or programs you bought and downloaded from the Web, and school projects. For these types of files, you can simply copy and paste the file into the backup medium. 
  • If you use an email program that is installed on your computer (such as Microsoft Outlook), back up important email messages and your email address book. Some email programs include an export feature for backing up important data. 
  • If you're trying to save time or space when backing up your computer, consider backing up only your personal data. Don't copy programs like Microsoft Outlook or your operating system. They can be reinstalled from the original CDs you purchased or from the system-restore CDs that came with your computer, or  they can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website. 
  • If you use your computer occasionally, back up your data once a week.  If you use your computer every day, a daily backup of the files you use most often or modified that day is a good idea. 
  • To be sure you've backed up every file, use backup software. Your operating system may also include backup features. 
  • In case your computer's hard drive fails, make sure you have a copy of your operating system on a CD for reinstallation. If your computer was shipped without a copy of the operating system, contact the manufacturer for a copy.