My computer ate my class notes!

This column was previously published in January 2009 in the Quid Novi, the newsletter for law students at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. Some of the information might be outdated and some might be targeted specifically at McGill law students.

We rely so much on our computers and laptop these days that taking good care of our computer files is a smart strategy. You laptop could be stolen, your hard drive could crash, or you can simply erase the document containing your notes. This article will go over some of the different ways you can backup your data, and give you some of the pros and cons of some of those methods.

The “do nothing” backing up method

This is by far the most popular and easiest to implement method. You don’t do anything. The only problem is that once something goes wrong, it really goes wrong. If your laptop is stolen, there is little you can do, besides going to the police. If you still have access to your hardware but have trouble finding your files, there might be some solutions. For example, Ontrack Data Recovery makes a product that allows you to recover files from corrupted hard drives (assuming the hard drive is still working). Another tool I used in the past is called WinHex: it’s a program that allows you to look at the raw content on your hard drive. You could use it to search for text you remember as being part of your document and try to extract it from the hard drive.

Anyways, I hope you read the rest of the article and never have to refer to this section when disaster strikes. While post-disaster solutions exist, they are never perfect.

WHERE: Trial of ontrack data recovery – http://www.ontrackdatarecovery.com/data-recovery-downloads/.
Trial of WinHex – http://www.x-ways.net/winhex/
PROS: Least amount of effort – before disaster strikes.
CONS: No real plan for the aftermath.

Backing up to your local hard drive

This is one option which, if setup right, gives you some protection around accidental file removals. The problem with this option is that it’s like putting all your eggs in the same basket. If you lose your hard drive, you lose your backup. Since this isn’t really a solution, I won’t discuss it much further.

PROS: Can help with accidental file removals.
CONS: No redundancy.

Backing up to a USB key

I know many law students are quite fond of their USB keys. We can even get a whole collection at the upcoming career days. Personally, while this is better than the first option, I find it to be one of the worst forms of backups. Why?

Read More…

Mac anti-virus software

I received my first question regarding the Mac. Here it is:

Hello,

What a great idea for a blog! I have a question for you.
I recently bought a mac. I have heard that they generally don’t get viruses. Does this mean that my computer will be safe without installing any virus protection software? If I wanted to be extra safe, would a product like Norton Antivirus or McAfee work on a mac?

Thank you!

Well first, congratulations on your recent purchase. You must be really happy! What you are saying is true, particularly if you use the PC as the measure against which to compare. That being said, you might still want an antivirus. You also should consider other possible attacks, particularly when it comes to protecting sensitive data.

For this, let me refer you to this great article from MacWorld on this specific topic. Let me just quote the conclusion:

No matter which operating system you use, there will always be people out there trying to make a fast buck by exploiting known bugs, system vulnerabilities, or lax users. I advise spending your money not on Mac antivirus software but on a good phishing-protection application; at the very least, consider using a browser that offers built-in phishing protection. Your Mac’s file system is probably safe from malicious hackers, but your identity may not be.

Good luck!

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