Why Are Virus Protection and Offsite Backups So Vital?

by Josh Tafoya, Technical Trainer

Computer viruses are a real drag.

Seeing as how you’re all reading this on the Internet, I’m going to assume that I don’t need to do the remedial explanation of computer viruses. We learned about them years ago. Anyone who feels they need to understand the concept a bit more, feel free to check out the Wikipedia entry or your favorite search engine to learn more.

In my 19 years as an I.T. professional, and in the dozen years before that as a nerdy (before it was cool) young person, I’ve been lucky to have only been affected once by a computer virus.

(Hang on, I need to knock on wood here.)

When sending my resume to the guy who gave me my first job in the computer business, I attached a Word document…with a Word macro virus attached. At the time, I didn’t use virus protection on my home computer. I was young, broke, and thought I was invulnerable. The short version of this story is, the guy gave me the job anyway. And I worked with him for 17 of the last 19 years. The silver lining of that scare is, even all these years later, I don’t install a Windows machine without some form of virus protection on it. Ever.

Any of you on the I.T. side of the security business are familiar with the situation where you become the de facto computer expert for your friends and family. Me too. What that means is, over the last 30 years or so, I’ve installed, built, fixed, cleaned, or tweaked literally hundreds of computers for friends and family. And I don’t let them out of my sight without at least downloading one of the several available, free virus packages on it.

Plus, I keep a couple of high capacity thumb drives with me to give to my friends or family because of another lesson I learned, this time outside of the I.T./Software/Computer business. However, it’s been reinforced dozens of times, even here at Bold.

That lesson is: Back Up Your Data!

My personal experience involved losing thousands of old family pictures and negatives that had been scanned, cropped, color corrected, and cleaned. I knew the computer was old. I knew the hard drive was just as old. But I never copied them to another drive. So, when the hard drive gave up the ghost, I lost a lot of work. Not the end of the world, certainly, but a bummer nonetheless.

In the alarm monitoring software business, the UL requires us to have backups. As I understand it (keeping in mind that UL certification is not part of my daily work with Manitou), it even requires a backup to be taken offsite at least monthly. Even for those monitoring centers which are not UL certified, it makes good sense.

Imagine, if you will, a scenario like one of the following:

  • The hard drives (which have moving parts, and will therefore eventually fail), stop working.
  • The servers hosting the hard drives have failures of another critical part (RAM, power supply, etc.)
  • There is something that prevents access to the servers, the network, or the building.
  • Relating to the earlier section of this blog, a virus or similar malware somehow gains access to your server.

Do you know how to recover from any of those? Have you practiced?

There is an especially vicious type of malware circulating lately that encrypts your data, then demands payment to unlock it. It even has an appropriate name: Ransomware. Fortunately, I haven’t run into it myself, but I’ve read the news reports, and it’s downright scary. Anti-virus software will do what is possible to prevent such things from happening. Having a backup which is not attached to your servers will be crucial in getting your data back quickly if the unthinkable happens.

So, protect your servers and workstations. Backup your data. I do it because I’ve had the unfortunate personal experience to learn my lesson. I don’t want anyone else to learn the hard way.