Backup Tools & Data Recovery

Backing up data is an important task all computers users should undertake. Far too many times do I see users lose important documents or precious photos due to an incorecly implemtented or non-existant backup. Sometimes, when luck in on our side, recovery tools may be able to help recover data that has been lost due to user error, non-booting system or hardware failure – but this is not always the case. I will cover backup tools first as all users should be using atleast one of the options to help protect data.

Recovery tools are also covered below, but hopefully your backups will mean that these tools will not be needed!

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Backup Tools

There are vaious backup tools available. All will have there own unique features, and it will come down to each individual users needs as to which backup is best. The tools I mention below are fairly generic and could be implemented for various different setups. Even something as simple as copying and pasting your photos and documents to an external drive could work for a basic computer user, but backups are a lot better if they are run automatically.

Windows

File History – Comes standard in Windows 8, 8.1 and 10 – It can be turned on by right clicking the ‘Start Button’ (or bottom left of screen for Windows 8 users) > clicking ‘Control Panel’ > Clicking ‘File History’ & then clicking ‘Turn On’. This assumes you have an External Drive plugged in already and will backup the most common areas such as Documents, Picture, Music, Videos and Desktop. If you wish to backup additional folders you can change settings under the ‘Advanced Settings’ menu item on the left. File History by default saves a copy of changed files every hour.

Backup and Restore Center – Comes stanard in Windows 7. It allows you to create a full backup of you machine on a schedule. i.e. Once a week. In my experience Backup and Restore Center is a little resource intensive on older hardware, so it is best to set the backup to run at a time you wont be using the PC. The backup can be turned on by Clicking the ‘Start Menu’ > Clicking ‘Control Panel’ > Clicking ‘System and Maintenance’ & Clicking ‘Backup and Restore’. Again assuming you already have an external drive attached you can click ‘Create New, Full Backup’.

Mac

When you plug an external hard drive into your Mac you will be asked if you would like to use the drive to make a backup with Time Machine. Click on ‘Use as Backup Disk’ to create a bacup.

If you do not get this message to create a backup you can also click the Apple menu > Click ‘System Preferences’ > Click ‘Time Machine’ > Click ‘Select Backup Disk’ > Select your disk & then click ‘Use Disk’.

More information on Time Machine can be found on the Apple website.

For more advanced users, rsync can also be used to make backups. More about rsync is found below.

Linux

Rsync is a file copying tool that can be used to create backups on a Linux system. It is easy to set rsycn as a cron job. The example below could be added to your crontab to sync files from your computer/server onto an external drive.

e.g. 0 10 * * * rsync -avzh –delete –log-file=/backup.log /home /mnt/sdb1/backup/

Mobile

iOS can be set to create backups to iCloud. All iCloud accounts come with a free 5GB storage which is enough for basic users but user who take a lot of photos or videos will find it fills up very quickly. If you wish to upgrade to more storage, pricingĀ  can be found on the apple website. At a minimum I recommend you backup contacts to iCloud (although this can also be synced with your Hotmail or Gmail account) and regularly import photos from your phone to your computer.

Another options for backing iOS is to create a backup with iTunes. This allows you to backup your device including photos and apps onto your computer. This can be very handy to have when migrating to a new phone or if for some reason you need to reinstall iOS you can restore your phone to exactly how it was previously.

Android, like iOS has the ability to backup contacts, email and calendar via Google Sync which is often enabled when first switching on the device. Each device is different but steps on how to check this is enabled can be found here.

Photos can be backed up via Google Photos. Which can be enabled via the sync options above. More details can be found here.

Another manual photo backup can be performed by importing the photos to your computer. Manual backups are not as good as automatic (because we tend to put it off) but it would be good practise to do this along side some kind of automatic backup.

Multi-platform

Duplicati – Available for Windows, Linux and Mac. Allows you to make automatic encrypted backups to cloud storage, remote file servers and local file servers. Very easy to setup. It gives you a little more control over your backups and can be used in conjuction with either of the two methods mentioned above.

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Recovery Tools

With a good backup system you will hopefully avoid the need to use any of the tools below. But these are tools I have found to be helpful when recovering lost data.

PhotoRec – I have copied and pasted the description from their website because it somes it up perfectly. “PhotoRec is file data recovery software designed to recover lost files including video, documents and archives from hard disks, CD-ROMs, and lost pictures (thus the Photo Recovery name) from digital camera memory. PhotoRec ignores the file system and goes after the underlying data, so it will still work even if your media’s file system has been severely damaged or reformatted.”

Recovering data from the iPhone corrupted backups – A Python script by from SecurityLearn.net. It is a handy tool for recovering data from iOS backups stored locally on your PC. Using this you are able to recovery Contacts, SMS, Calendar and Photos. This tool is for more advanced users.

Recover iPhone Contacts from iTunes Backup – Although this tutorial is written for a Mac, the second part of the tutorial can be used to extract contact information from the data recovered using the Python tool above. It requires Sqlite to be installed on your computer (I used Ubuntu). This tutorial is for more advanced users.

I will continue to add various tools and software to this page so stay tuned. If you have any suggestions, send a message via the contacts page.

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