A recently released FBI study found that almost 90 percent of American businesses were affected by some sort of computer security attack in 2005, typically coming from viruses and spyware. The average cost associated with these attacks was over $24,000. Much of this cost is directly attributable to failed or insufficient data backup systems. Similar problems are increasingly impacting home and casual users as well.

Rescuecom (www.rescuecom.com), a franchised computer repair and technology services company with an office on Harrison Street, shares tips for keeping computer data safe.

“This report shows us how vulnerable we really are. American businesses certainly know about computer threats, yet almost nine out of ten of them are still attacked,” says David A. Milman, CEO of Rescuecom, which is based in Syracuse, New York, in a prepared statement. “That is a sobering reminder that all of our data — from digital photos and music to tax returns, budgets and even our identities — must be protected.”

This is particularly important given the ongoing proliferation of computer viruses and spyware, which today are more potentially destructive than ever before. Even with the best virus/spyware protection software, new threats are emerging that can avoid detection and cause serious damage. As anyone who has gone through the nightmare of losing his or her information can attest, the relatively simple step of properly backing up a computer is often neglected until it’s already too late.

How to best protect and backup your computer. There are many excellent methods of saving and storing your files, many you can do yourself, and others that are done automatically off-site. Rescuecom recommends that each level of computer user consider a remote and/or tape back-up system to protect an entire system and in case of a fire or other disaster.

Also, any data that is placed on a CD, disk drive, or off-site should be encrypted, in case those back-ups are lost or misplaced. There are several additional backup options. Choosing the right one depends often depends first on identifying your user profile.

Advice for the casual user. You occasionally log on the home computer and keep a few important documents on your machine, such as tax returns, family budgets, and maybe online games and E-mail. The best way to back-up is via a CD or DVD, Zip drive or a portable “key drive,” a flash memory stick about the size of a lighter.

Flash drives have become smaller and more affordable, though you must be careful not to lose them. To prevent others from gaining access to your data should your backup tapes/discs be lost or stolen, it is also important that all sensitive information be encrypted. Also, make sure that when you save to a CD or DVD you are not overwriting previous files that you have saved and will need later.

Power user. You have all your CDs downloaded to iTunes and your iPod, have pictures of all your friends’ birthdays and holidays and copies of your last five years of canceled checks on your hard drive. You’ve also saved the first draft of the great American novel and your autobiography. You use your computer on a daily basis and would be significantly inconvenienced, if not devastated, if you lost your data.

In that case the recommendation is to back up the entire system, rather than just specific files. Investing in a software program such as Norton Ghost satisfies this need by backing up your system and storing it on an external drive or storage device. The difference here is that in addition to your important files, all your software and other system components will be saved as well.

This means that besides having access to your files, you can quickly be back on line using them if your system fails. Such software is generally available for under $75. It is important to set up and adhere to a regular schedule to run these programs or other back-up options, particularly when important files have been saved to the hard drive.

A newer and potentially easier option is to engage with a remote backup service that automatically backs up your files on a nightly or more frequent basis. Disaster recovery using this option is simple and will ensure you can retrieve your critical data, though generally does not restore an entire system. There are several companies that provide this service, generally at a monthly fee based on the amount of data you store — normally between $9.95 per gigabyte and $25 per gigabyte per month. Rescuecom can provide this service for $98 per month per 10 gigabytes.

Small business owner. You run your business out of your home or you own a small business using one, several, or dozens of computers. It is crucial that your data is backed-up on a daily basis. Options include tape back up. While many think of tape as an “old” technology, advances in compression and other improvements have kept tape as one of the most reliable, consistent backup methods. It is relatively easy to automate, though to do it right it is important to store the tapes at a second location (to prevent against fire, flood, or theft), which can be a bit cumbersome. It can also be one of the more costly solutions, typically ranging between $1,000 and $10,000 for the total investment.

Another possibility for the small business is remote back up. This is an easy, worry free way to ensure that your data is safe, and is used by a growing number of small businesses. Remote backup should be done in conjunction with a tape backup regimen, if possible.

A third possibility is duplicate or mirrored drives. As the name suggests, these options simply duplicate the contents of your hard drive, providing instant online backup should the system fail. However, as these devices are on site, so if disaster hits the facility or the system, recovery can be difficult.

Large company. For organizations that cannot afford a minute of downtime this system is as fool proof as you can get. It includes creating one or more entire systems in geographically dispersed locations. The only downside is that it is far more expensive than other options.

If all is lost. Should data be lost, it may be possible to recover some or all of it. Rescuecom recommends that if data is lost everything be left alone. Do not touch anything. Do not try and do recovery yourself. This is the time to call in the experts.

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