Backblaze

I Just Did Something Really Stupid

This is probably one of the longest posts I have ever written, but it is also one of the most important. Please take a few minutes to read it...it could save you from losing all of your data.

So I just did something a few days ago that made me feel really stupid, so naturally I need to tell the world about my stupidity. I've been sick for a week now with a really nasty case of the flu that I caught while attending CES in Las Vegas. A few night ago I was in the kitchen cooking dinner and my daughter asked me to come over to the computer. She needed me to type in the administrator password so she could install a program on the Mac. Normally this would set off my "spidey sense", but between still being sick, being in the middle of cooking dinner and because in this case I knew exactly what my daughter was doing...I typed in the admin password so she could install the program. Except when I did this a program called "Mac Purifier" was installed on my Mac and started scanning my computer. I literally ripped the power cord out of the wall and just left the computer where it was in its unpowered state so I could go back to my half-cooked dinner before it burned.

So what happened? My daughter is really into Minecraft (and I mean REALLY into Minecraft). She wanted to install a mod to Minecraft and that required that she first install a program called "Forge" to help with that process. Her and I had been talking about what she was doing for a while now and that was why I really didn't think twice about approving the install. She went to official website for Forge and attempted to download Forge. This is where everything went wrong. From what I can tell, instead of downloading Forge she clicked on one of the ads on the Forge website (an ad made to look like an install button) and that ad downloaded the installation package for Mac Purifier. So I instead of installing Forge like we both thought, I gave my Mac permission to install a piece of (shit...ok I'll be nice and call it malware). Mac Purifier is actually designed to do something good and that is it scans your Mac and notifies you about anything that shouldn't be there like viruses or malware (ironic isn't it). The reason I call Mac Purifier malware is because in order for Mac Purifier to do anything useful you are prompted to purchase the "full" version of the program. So it is essentially a useless shell of a program designed to scare you into buying the full version. Mac Purifier is one of those programs that has also been bundled with "free" software you can download on not so trustworthy websites out there as a way to pump money out of unsuspecting people. Because of this I had no idea whether the version of Mac Purifier that was just installed on my Mac had any other kind of malware embedded in it or if was just truly the useless money sucking program that it was designed to be. I had no choice but to wipe my Mac (nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure).

There are two reasons I am writing this post:

  • To stress the importance of having computer backups
  • To wage war against online ads

The Importance of Computer Backups

The only reason this really stupid thing I did didn't cost me a ton of time (and possibly all my data) is because I have a rock solid backup strategy for ALL of my data. Instead of having to go into my Mac and performing extensive surgery to remove the malicious program I just installed (seriously, take a look at this article and read how much is involved with manually removing this crap), it took me less than 5 minutes of my time to completely nuke my entire computer and re-install everything to exactly how it was before Mac Purifier was installed (it took overnight for all the data to be restored but only took 5 minutes of my time to enact). The reason I was able to do this so easily is because one of the backup methods I use clones the entire hard drive of my Mac (I use a program called Carbon Copy Cloner but there are others like it for both Mac and PC). So all I had to do was plug my Mac back into power and boot off of my cloned backup drive and run a restore from my cloned drive over to the hard drive of my Mac). This essentially put my Mac back into the exact configuration it was in when I last performed a clone of my hard drive (in this case it happened to be the night before).

So what do I recommend for computer backups? You need a minimum of two backups of all of your data and one of those backups absolutely must be an offsite backup. If all of your backups are either attached to your computer or reside in the same location then theft or fire could still destroy all of your data. So here is what I do:

  • Backup method 1 is Time Machine. I have an Apple Time Capsule router that has a hard drive built into it so every Mac in my house is continuously and wirelessly backed up with Time Machine.
  • Backup method 2 is my offsite backup. Instead of using Time Machine for this backup (which I could do) I use Carbon Copy Cloner and clone the entire computer's hard drive to a portable USB hard drive. I take that hard drive into work and leave it there. Every 2-weeks I have a reminder to take that hard drive home and perform a new clone of my computer hard drives, but I make sure that drive never stays in the house any more than overnight.

If you have a Mac, backup is incredibly simple, free, and built right into the computer's operating system. Just go out and buy an external hard drive that has at least twice the capacity of the hard drive you are trying to backup, plug it onto your Mac and turn on Time Machine. That is your on-site backup. You can get a 2nd external hard drive and so the same thing except take that drive offsite (either take it to work or store it at the house of a family member or friend). The other option for offsite backup is to pay for a cloud backup service like Backblaze or Crashplan. For just a few bucks a months and the flip of a software switch you will ensure you will never lose a piece of your data. I've used both of these services before and they are both excellent. I don't use either now because our house is located in a place we like to call "the place the internet goes to die"...we don't get fast reliable internet data so pushing a lot of data through our home internet just isn't feasible. What ever you decide to do just make sure you take the 2 method approach I describe above. Don't let the voice in the back of your head tell you that this is too expensive. The "stupid thing I just did" could have just as easily installed a piece of software that encrypted my entire hard drive and held it for ransom until I paid the developer an enormous sum of money to give me the key (yes, this type of thing really does happen). A simple virus could also just as easily wipe out your entire computer. How much is it worth to you to secure you data to make sure you don't lose everything? Can you really compare that value to the cost of a few external hard drives or a few bucks a month for a cloud backup service? I think not.

I'm Done With Online Ads

This stupid thing I did was the last straw, there will be no more website ads in my house. The Forge website is a site that gets a lot of traffic from kids, but the ads on that site are designed to prey on those kids...posing as buttons to install Forge but instead installing something entirely different (something that makes that company money at the expense of the kids and their parents). The ads on this site are targeting kids. There is a special level of hell for people that prey on kids and online predators are no exception (yes, I am classifying online advertisers a child predators). If you stalk and take advantage of a child you are a predator (granted there are various levels of severity when you classify it this way).

So I'm no longer going to tolerate online ads. I have installed ad blocking software on all of my home Macs and iOS devices. I chose to go with 1Blocker because it has both a Mac and an iOS version and the preferences and setting can be synched, but there are a lot of other options out there both free (like Ghostery) and not so free (like Roadblock for Mac and Roadblock for iOS, free to download but requires In-App-Purchase to fully unlock). Look, I understand that online ads are the way most website afford to be in existence. Heck, I write for one of those websites (GeekDad.com, and ads are part of what pays our bills) and I totally understand that not all ads are evil. We actually spend quite a bit of time behind the scenes debating just how many and what types of ads to allow on the GeekDad site because we don't want to just drown our readers with ads (after all that is not why they come to the site, they come for our content). But most websites don't spend that kind of time making sure the ads they serve don't abuse the people that visit their site. So this latest abuse by advertisers was the last straw...I'm just nuking all ads in my house going forward. If you are a website I visit often and you haven't abused me with the ads you serve up then you will be whitelisted by my ad blocking software. If you want to have nightmares I suggest you install one of these ad blocking programs on your computer and pay attention to just how many trackers and pieces of code are kicked off on each website you visit...it is absolutely terrifying.

I pulled this report using 1Blocker. You read that right, CNN.com has 29 ads and 23 trackers just from the home page. Sleep tight...

I pulled this report using 1Blocker. You read that right, CNN.com has 29 ads and 23 trackers just from the home page. Sleep tight...

Summary

I just did something incredibly stupid, something that could have destroyed all of the data on my computer and I am relatively tech savy (I do write for two tech blogs after all). If I can do something this stupid then people that don't follow and keep up with tech like I do are even more vulnerable. That is what truly scared me when I did this. I thought I was immune, but in reality we all just one bad move away from inflicting some serious harm on our computers. Luckily I had already been protecting myself with a rock solid backup strategy and now I'm taking one additional step by eliminating online ads. You will notice that my blog here at 1Wayswim doesn't have any ads and it never will. Readers have the options to drop me a few bucks via my donate page and I've been toying with the idea of setting up a Patreon account for 1Wayswim, but rest assured I will never serve up ads on this website. I can't stand advertising..never have. I guess I view advertising as a theft of my time and attention and I like to know what something costs up front. I also put my money where my mouth is and pay for several online news sources and support small content providers via their Patreon pages and will continue to do so. Like I said, I will whitelist website that don't abuse me with the ads they serve up but that will be an exception to the rule that must be earned. After what happened a few days ago I decided to skip right over the whole "waging war on online ads" and ended the war before it even began by just nuking them from orbit to begin with. I suggest you all consider doing the same, but when you do, just make sure you either whitelist the "good guys" or find another way to toss them a few bucks on a regular basis. Otherwise, we will all be stuck with a bunch of garbage out there on the internet (and its bad enough now as it is).

Home Computer Data Backup

Today I am replacing the external drive on my main home computer. Did it break? No. Am I out of space? No. The drive is 4 years old. Most hard drives have an expected lifetime somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-3 years. That doesn't mean the hard drive won't last more than 2-3 years. I've had some last as long as 6 or 7 years! But statistically speaking you can't expect a hard drive to last more than 2-3 years (if even that long). The hard drive I am replacing is not a backup drive, which means this hard drive really needs to work. I keep my iTunes library as well as all the old home movies we have taken over the years on this device. I do not want to lose what is on this drive. The internal hard drive on my main home computer just isn't big enough to hold everything, hence the need for this external hard drive. So I am proactively replacing the hard drive, and while I'm at it I also upgraded from 2 Tb to 3 Tb. I have also setup a reminder 2 years from now to replace the hard drive again so I don't accidentally wait 4 years and risk losing the drive.

All of this got me thinking...I've never written a post about backups. Over the years backups have saved me many times and failed me too. Several years back my work computer backup failed me and when one of my Outlook .pst folders got corrupted I lost 5 years worth of email data because I couldn't pull that .pst folder from a backup (because the backup wasn't there, it had literally failed). So what kind of backup strategy do you need to protect your home data? It's actually quite simple. You need a minimum of two backups of all of your data, one on-site backup and one off-site backup.

On-Site Backup

This is a backup of your data that is in the same location as your primary data. I am running Macs in my house, so the easiest way for me do to an on-site backup is to run Time Machine. If you are running PCs or a mix of machines in your house then you will need to look at other options (and since I gave up PCs a long time ago I'm not a good person help you in this area). Whether you are running Macs or PCs, the most important aspect of your on-site backup is that it be automatic. That's what I like about Time Machine. It doesn't require me to do anything. Once I set up Time Machine it does everything else automatically, including overwriting old backups when the hard drive starts to get full. If your primary backup requires you do to something for it to work (i.e. hook up a drive or physically start up and application) then you are now a potential source of failure. Take yourself out of the loop and have your primary data backup occur automatically. I have two laptops as the main computers in my house and a Mac Mini that is both a personal computer and a home server. So for me the best solution to have an on-site backup of all these devices is to use Time Machine on a Time Capsule. Time Capsule is an Apple wireless router that has a hard drive built-in. This allows you to do a Time Machine backup of a computer that isn't physically connected. This is very handy for computers like laptops that are not always in the same location, making it difficult to keep an external drive connected to it for backup purposes. So all 3 of my home computers backup wirelessly to my Time Capsule and this is how I perform my on-site backups. Back when I used to just have a single iMac as the home computer I just had an external hard drive connected to the iMac and used Time Machine.

Off-Site Backup

The 2nd part to having a good backup strategy is to also have an off-site backup. You might think this is a little bit of overkill at first blush. I mean, how many backups do you really need? The reason to have an offsite backup is two-fold. One, your on-site backup is co-located with the original data. If something happened at that location (theft, fire, flood, power surge, etc...) then you have lost both the original and the backup all at once. The other reason to have an offsite backup is that it also doubles as a 2nd backup. Backups do fail and when they do it is really nice to know that you have a second backup that you can go to in order to get your data. Offsite backups don't have to be as automatic as your onsite backup, but they can be. The easiest way to have an offsite backup is to again use Time Machine. Get a 2nd external hard drive and connect it to your computer and use Time Machine to backup to that hard drive (in addition to the on-site hard drive you are backing up to). Time Machine can backup to more than one hard drive at a time. Just name the hard drives something different and Time Machine will automatically backup to that hard drive anytime it is attached. Several years back this is how I used to do offsite backups. I would use a 2nd external hard drive would take that hard drive into work and leave it there. Once every 2-weeks I would bring the hard drive home and connect it up to the computer to back it up and then take the hard drive back into work. Instead of leaving it at work you can also use a friend's house or a family member. Make a deal with them that you will store their hard drive if they will store yours. This also serves as an extra reminder. When they ask for their hard drive it reminds you that you need yours so you can do a backup as well.

There is an easier solution to offsite backup than a physical hard drive and this cloud-based backup. There are quite a few options out there that provide cloud-based backups for a very low monthly cost. I currently use Backblaze, but there are many other services out there from which to choose. Backblaze costs $5 a month per computer and it backs up everything on your computer, including any hard drives that are physically attached. Backblaze also has no size limits on how much you can backup. If you need to access a single file or all of your files then you can simply download the file through the web interface. Backblaze also has a few other really nice features. If your computer totally crashes and burns and you need to download EVERYTHING, Backblaze gives you the option of having your data shipped to you on an external hard drive overnight. Downloading large amounts of data (if you were to truly lose everything) could take weeks or months depending on your internet speed, and you may not have that much time. Backblaze also has an iOS app that gives you access to all of your data from your iOS device. Think about that. It's like carrying around your home computer in your pocket! CrashPlan is another cloud-based backup that I have used in the past. The nice thing about CrashPlan is that there is a feature that lets your computer be the off-site backup for a friend or family member and its free to do this. This is really nice option if your friend or family member doesn't have a lot of data and doesn't want to pay or mess with a cloud-based option. Once you download CrashPlan on your computer it sets up a folder on your your computer where it can backup data from other computers. You can send an invite to the person whose data you want to backup and once they install CrashPlan on their machine they will start automatically backing up to your computer.

In summary, don't fall into the trap of not having a good backup strategy. If you have data you don't want to lose then you can afford spending a little bit of time and money making sure you NEVER lose that data. Go buy yourself a couple of external hard drives and/or a subscription to a cloud-based backup service and backup your data. If you lost all of your family photos and home videos how much would you pay to get them back? If you look at it that way, $5 a month and buying a new external hard drive every couple of years all the sudden doesn't seem all that expensive anymore.

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