Imagine a stranger saying you couldn’t access your own customer records unless you forked over money to have the unlocked.

You probably would scream or pound your fists or feel like pulling your hair out. A significant number of small businesses have experienced this kind of blackmail and many have paid up—but still not gotten their data back, according to a survey by the Ponemon Institute. Ransomware attacks, which result in a company’s data being held hostage by a cybercriminal, can be devastating when you have poor backup practices and can’t restore your data. More pedestrian occurrences, such as viruses, stolen computers or simply spilling coffee on your laptop, can impact business productivity if you can’t recover data quickly. Regardless of the cause, now is the right time to safeguard your critical information the right way.

In addition to a cyber security strategy that includes a solution like Spectrum Security Suite, here are seven proven tactics to ensure your long-term backup plan doesn’t fall short:

  1. Identify essential data. You should back up any data that are critical to running your business, such as customer and sales records, or those required for legal or regulatory purposes. Even though storage is becoming cheaper every day, you shouldn’t waste money backing up unnecessary data. “Extraneous data can exhaust valuable back-up time, drive life and storage space,” explains Joseph Thomas, co-founder of A Bit Above, LLC, a company that provides computer consulting and support services in Pinellas County, Florida. Develop criteria for what are essential data for your business.
  2. Do a 3-2-1 countdown. A 3-2-1 backup strategy is a tested principle to safeguard important files. Keep at least three copies of your data, including the original and two backups. Put the backups in two different places, such as an external drive and on the cloud. And make sure one of the copies is at an offsite location, in case you experience a disaster that renders your office and equipment inaccessible.
  3. Become single minded. Any data you want to back up should ultimately be sequestered in a single file or a single location. “Having a centralized repository will prevent stray (but essential) files from being excluded,” Thomas says.
  4. Encrypt your data. When data are encrypted, they become an unreadable code that can only be turned back into plain text with a password. Not all encryption is created equal. Make sure your cloud backup provider uses sophisticated encryption, such as military-grade encryption, during the backup process so your data remain secure while in transit and once stored.
  5. Give yourself an “undelete” option. Accidentally deleting important files can cause your heart to sink, and it happens all the time, according to experts. The good news is that all is not lost—or at least, it doesn’t have to be. One benefit to a cloud backup system is that often it can recover files that you deleted. 

    Having your data backed up won’t help if you can’t get to it.

  6. Track turnaround time. Having your data backed up won’t help if you can’t get to it. Time is money, and quickly rebounding from business disruption, whether due to hacking or a hurricane, should be an important consideration. Check if your backup service allows you to restore the data you are storing in a timely fashion.
  7. Don’t forget the fire drill. You take it on faith that your backup system is operating correctly. But do you really want to test your backup for the first time during an emergency? Check with your provider about how you can periodically test your backups to ensure you can restore critical data. Only then will you have peace of mind knowing your backed-up files will be at the ready if you ever need them.
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