How to Backup your Device to a Local Drive or the Cloud

Depending on your device, there are several methods you can use. For computers, you can either backup to an external drive, or use a cloud storage service. For smartphones and tablets, you’ll most likely only have the option of cloud storage. It depends on how much data you have.

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Physical Storage

Both Windows and macOS have built-in backup options. If you’re a Linux user, you’ll have to download software.

File History

On Windows, when you first plug in an external hard drive, you’ll see a window pop up. The message will ask you if you want to use the drive as a backup solution. If you don’t get a prompt like this, go to the Start menu and type “backup.” Depending on the version of Windows you have, you’ll see something like Backup and Restore, and/or File History.

windows backup

Once there, just click the Set Up Backup button. Choose the drive you plugged in and select Next. You can stay with the default settings or customize it, then press Next. On the final screen, click Save Settings and Run Backup. Windows will take care of the rest. If you ever need to restore a file, you can go into File History and find Restore My Files or Restore Users Files.

Time Machine

For Mac users, the backup solution is Time Machine. Similar to Windows, when you first plug in a hard drive, macOS will ask you if you want to use it as a Time Machine device, or regular usage. Note that once you designate a drive as a Time Machine device, you can’t use it for anything else. You can still manually move files over, though.

If your Mac doesn’t ask you, you can find Time Machine in System Preferences > Time Machine. As you set the drive up, you can choose to encrypt the drive or not. We recommend that you always encrypt. When you think of a password, either from scratch or with a password manager, don’t let the computer save the password in your keychain. If your Mac stores it, then anyone can access the drive by plugging it in, and the encryption will be moot.

time machine backup

After you set up Time Machine, it automatically makes backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months. Your Mac deletes the oldest backups once your drive is full.

You can restore files from a backup by choosing Enter Time Machine from the Time Machine menu icon. You can select whatever files and folders you want by browsing through them. Click or right-click and select Restore.

Simple Backup

For Linux users, you can download software called Simple Backup. These steps work on Linux Mint and Ubuntu/Ubuntu-based distributions. For other Linux flavors, you might have to Google search.

To install, just search in the software center for SBackup. To configure SBackup’s recommended settings assume you have /var/backup that points to a separate hard drive. If it doesn’t, use custom settings to figure out what you need in the General tab. Next, click on the Include tab and add files and directories you want to backup. The software runs as root so you can back up any directory. Typical directories to include are /var, /home, /usr/local/ and /etc/.


SBackup: Exclude

In the Exclude tab, you can choose any files or directories that you don’t want to be backed up. You can exclude based on paths, file types, regular expression (regex) or maximum file size. SBackup doesn’t back up most media files by default. You’ll probably want to adjust the settings to include file types like mp3, avi, and JPG. Also by default, SBackup doesn’t back up anything bigger than 95MB.

In the Destination tab, you can choose the destination folder, hard drive or remote directory. Even though the remote directory only shows SSH and FTP, SBackup includes other protocols like SFTP and SMB. The format for a network path is


If you backup to a remote server, select the option to abort if the destination doesn’t exist. Otherwise, SBackup will store the backup on your local drive. The Time tab lets you schedule backups to happen automatically. For this, you’d have to keep the external drive plugged in. Otherwise, you’d have to start the process manually. SBackup uses Cron to schedule the backup.


SBackup: General

Finally, in the Purging tab, you can prevent your hard drive from filling up. SBackup, like Time Machine, can delete old backups automatically.

Cloud Storage

For smartphone and tablet users, and laptop/desktop users without a lot of data, cloud storage is an option. There are a bunch of options, but to make it simple, we’ll only talk about five.


iCloud isn’t the greatest, but it is getting better. For iPhone and Mac users, iCloud is the easiest option because it happens automatically. On the iPhone and iPad, if you select Back Up to iCloud, your device automatically backs up every night.

On iPhone/iPad, go to Settings > iCloud > Storage. Every iOS user gets 5GB of storage for free. The other storage options are:

  • 50GB for $1/month
  • 200GB for $3/month
  • 1TB for $10/month
  • 2TB for $20/month
Image from Apple Support

Image from Apple Support

The 2TB option is brand new and just came out this week, perfect for your 256GB device. Your iDevice uploads a bunch of stuff, including photos, mail, contacts, calendars, notes & reminders, Safari bookmarks and settings, Home, News, wallet, keychain and Find My iPhone. If you’re a Mac user, you should know that the new macOS Sierra adds a new iCloud option. Your computer will have the choice of uploading your Documents and Desktop folders.

Google Drive

Users of Android and Chrome OS rely on Google Drive. Since Google is primarily an advertising company, you trade privacy for convenience. Although Google encrypts your files both in transit and on the server, they hold the keys and can decrypt your data at any time. That’s not to say they go poking through everyone’s files, but it’s still unsettling.

Google Drive

Google Drive

Google gives you 15GB of free storage to spread out among Drive, Gmail, and Photos. Paid tiers:

  • 100GB for $2/month
  • 1TB for $10/month
  • 10TB for $100/month
  • 20TB for $200/month
  • 30TB for $300/month

Dropbox is probably the most popular of the cloud storage services. If an app has a cloud-syncing ability, you can bet that Dropbox is most likely one of the options. The company has plans for consumers and enterprise customers alike. Although you get a paltry 2GB for free, you can increase that by getting your friends to sign up. Paid tiers:

  • Pro: 1TB for $10/month
  • Business: As much space as needed for $15 per user/month
  • Enterprise: Contact for pricing
Image from PC Mag

Image from PC Mag


When it comes to user privacy and security, SpiderOak rules the roost. As a consequence, it encrypts files both in transit and on its servers. They have a “zero-knowledge” privacy policy. What this means:

  • Your Password hash is stored with salted PBKDF2. PBKDF2 uses SHA-256
  • Your Keys can only be unlocked with your password. Which is created using  AES-256 and HMAC-SHA-256.
  • Every version of a file or folder is encrypted with a new key allowing you to restore from different points in history.
  • All Traffic is encrypted over TLS/SSL.

Image from Macworld

SpiderOak has plans for enterprise and individual consumers: Like Dropbox, SpiderOak offers 2GB for free. Paid tiers:

  • 30GB for $7/month
  • 1TB for $12/month
  • 5TB fro $25/month

Backblaze is a little different than other cloud storage providers. It focuses more on backing up your entire computer, instead of selectively uploading individual files and folders. For $5/month you get unlimited backups for your computer. You can even back up external hard drives. This solution is a hybrid service – in between physical and cloud.

Backblaze Data Center

Backblaze Data Center

For businesses, it is $50 per computer per year for storage. Developers and IT users can make use of B2 Cloud Storage, Backblaze’s answer to Azure, Amazon E3, etc.