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Don’t Let Encryption Push Your Data off the Cliff

We seem to value our data so much, that we’ll encrypt it to protect it from anyone who might steal it. But if we don’t handle encryption and backup properly, our data can be irretrievably lost. You can avoid getting pushed off the cliff by understanding better how encryption passcodes work, how encrypted storage works, and why it’s good to have multiple backups.

The problems with mismanaging encrypted files came together to create a perfect storm for a family member of one of our clients. Here’s what happened. When the family member went to get a new phone, their iCloud storage was full; it had exceeded the 5GB limit for free storage. In addition, they didn’t have the old phone with them, and a lot of critical business data had been stored on the phone – which had been backed up to a computer. When backing up files from an iPhone or iPad to a computer, there is an option to set up the encryption.

Those files were encrypted, and the user had forgotten the encryption key to retrieve the files. Everything was done with good intentions, but the plan broke down because they couldn’t remember the encryption key they set up for the first backup.

We are sorry to report there was absolutely nothing we could do. Encryption codes cannot be cracked. It’s like somebody pushed your data off a high cliff, dashing all files to little bits on the rocks below. Yes, there are rumors that the government can crack them, but the downside is that it has to involve criminal activity. Do you want to be branded a criminal to get your data back? If you have found a way to crack an encryption code, please let us know.

There are much better ways to prevent problems with encrypted files, and to us, they’re all hiding in plain sight. The first and most obvious step is to write down your encryption key or password and put it in a safe place. In addition, test that secure backup to make sure it’s good. You need to know you can rely on the backup when you need it.

We follow both parts of that first step when handling encrypted backups for clients. If you are a Microsoft 365 user, there is an encrypted backup, and we save your retrieval key to your account. If you are not a 365 user, we print two copies of any retrieval keys you have. We give one to you and scan the other to keep in your client file. While you should be confident that we have your back for technology issues, you should guard your printed copy with your life. Our system helped one client as we were boarding a cruise ship. We were able to take an image of the key we had stored in our system and read it to him.

The second step is to go beyond just having that encrypted backup. You should have multiple backups, and you should consider any costs for storage to be an insurance policy. It’s the cheapest insurance you can buy. In the case of iCloud storage, you can get 50GB of space for 99 cents per month. That’s less than $12 a year – and you can do it anytime from anywhere an internet connection is available. One of our clients was backing up pictures from his DSLR camera to iCloud while on vacation in South Africa when he ran out of free space. In less than a minute, he increased his storage to 50GB using a cellular connection while on a city street. He knew his priceless pictures – which he could never reshoot – were safe.

Online backup is available from multiple providers, and for most small businesses and personal users, you can easily find a plan that ranges from $20 to $200 per month. For iCloud, just as an example, you can get 200GB for $2.99 per month and 2T for $9.99 per month. For the cost of $12 to $120 for a year, you can protect a life’s worth of business data or photos and videos that you’ll never be able to replicate. In addition, if everything you need is in your iCloud account – and you have access to the files from your device – you have a fallback if you’ve encrypted files backed up to your computer. You can delete the encryption and make a fresh backup from your device.

We can help you stay away from the edge of the data-destruction cliff by conducting an audit of your backup system – or systems – to make sure all is in order, and we can walk you through the steps to set up a good system. You’ll also get a lecture about spending $12 a year to mitigate the risk of losing everything. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment.