The 3-2-1 rule is a widely used technique for backing up information. The basic premise of this rule is to save three copies of your data – two on different media (for example, two different external hard drives), and one off-site (for example, in your company warehouse).
If you have three copies of your data, then the risk of losing them all is very small. Although it may seem slightly cumbersome and over-the-top, it will give you peace of mind that no matter what happens, you won’t lose years of hard work.
The concept was created by Peter Krogh, an American photographer. In an article for dpbestflow.org Mr Krogh wrote that there are two types of people in the world: “those who have had hard drive failure, and those who will.”
In other words, hard drive failure is inevitable, so you might as well protect yourself as best you can.
Mr Krogh also wrote extensively about some of the circumstances that could lead to data loss, such as security threats, device failure, malicious damage, viruses, device glitches, and even lightning strikes/voltage surges.
In addition, he provides guidance on how to manage backups – for example, what to keep and what to let go. We’ve summarised some of his key points below.
4 Key Points in Managing Your Backups
1. Identify your primary copy
You might have copies of the same file saved in several places.
Identify the primary copy – this is what you will backup.
2. Physically separate your backups
A key component of the 3-2-1 rule is to make sure at least one of your backups is stored offsite, so your files will be protected in the event of a natural disaster.
3. Implement rolling backups
Create a system that offers automatic backups, so you never go an extended period of time between backups (the longer you go, the more data that’s exposed).
4. Conduct a trial restoration
You won’t know that a backup works until it comes time to test it. Try to test your backup systems before disaster strikes, so you know for sure that they work.
The 3-2-1 rule is so well-respected that it’s employed by the US government – or at least, according to this article.
“There is no such thing as a perfect backup system, but the 3-2-1 approach is a great start for the majority of people and businesses,” the article reads.
“Even the United States Government recommends this approach. In a 2012 paper for US-CERT (United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team), Carnegie Mellon recommended the 3-2-1 method in their publication titled: Data Backup Options.”
We can learn a lot from the 3-2-1 rule and Mr Krogh. It takes a comprehensive and logical approach to data loss and security and puts much of the power back in our own hands.
With technology evolving at such a rapid pace, it can be tempting to tend towards apathy or overwhelm. Instead, the 3-2-1 rule is methodical and rational – something we should all aspire towards in our own cyber security strategies.
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