• Mac Security: Backups

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    It is important that Mac users (as well as users of any major tech devices) backup their data, as drive failures, hardware failures, ransomware, or even clicking the wrong button and tossing a file can cause Mac users to lose important data.

    While iPhones and iPads can back everything up to iCloud (or locally using iTunes), backing up a Mac is a little different, but there are some excellent and simple strategies for backing up a Mac.

    The Difference Between Backup and File Syncing

    One thing to keep in mind while cloud syncing services do keep a copy of one’s files in the cloud, file syncing is not the same as full-fledged backup. If a Mac user deletes a file from a cloud syncing service, the file is also deleted from the cloud. However, keeping a copy of critical files in cloud syncing services, in addition to full-fledged backup strategies, make it easy to recover files quickly in the event of a drive or device failure, plus being able to access the files easily on other devices or a web browser can also make it easy to quickly access the files if need be (similar to a USB flash drive that’s always with the Mac user). iCloud Drive is built into macOS and iOS (and offers web access and a client for Windows), although other popular options include Dropbox, OneDrive (and OneDrive for Business for enterprise users), and Google Drive. I also used Amazon Drive in the past for storing copies of large files in the cloud, but now that Amazon is pivoting more toward using Amazon Drive for photo storage, I’m now using GoodSync to sync a share on my Drobo NAS with WebMate Drive for files too large to easily store in iCloud Drive.

    Mac and iOS users may also want to use iCloud to sync photos, mail, calendar, contacts, notes, reminders, Safari bookmarks and iMessages across devices (it’s what I use for my primary file syncing), as well as any IMAP or Exchange email accounts will sync across devices as well.

    Time Machine

    Now onto full-fledged backup. The quickest way to create a full backup of a Mac is using Time Machine. Time Machine creates a full backup of a Mac, plus backs up changes every hour, making it easy to restore a full backup in the event of a catastrophe, or allows for quick restores of deleted files (it’s similar to System Restore and File History on Windows rolled together, plus a full backup as well). Time Machine works with any type of hard drive (USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt), as well as Apple sold the Time Capsule in the past which was a wireless router with a hard drive built-in for Time Machine backups. It also works with NAS devices (I use a Drobo NAS with mine). The settings are simple (mainly plug it in and forget it), although backups can be encrypted, as well as one can choose to exclude certain files if need be. One thing to keep in mind if Time Machine drives cannot be formatted as APFS (Apple Filing System) yet. They need to be formatted as HFS+. Changing the format to APFS, even if it’s on a flash drive, will break the Time Machine backup.

    Bare minimum, Mac users should be using Time Machine as one form of backup. It’s quick, simple, and effortless. Time Machine can also backup to the cloud on WebMate Drive, although I recommend a different solution for that.

    Creating a Bootable Clone

    Another Backup strategy that makes for effortless restores are bootable clones, as one can boot from an external drive running the clone or re-clone the backup to a drive when replacing the drive. When I’ve had Macs on the verge of hard drive failure, bootable clones have saved the day and kept me running smoothly.

    My two favorite tools for creating bootable clones (similar to Macrium Reflect for Windows) are Super Duper and Carbon Copy Cloner. I’ve used both, and either has saved the day for me when I needed a quick bootable clone backup. For those running Intego antivirus, their premium package includes Personal Backup, which I have also used in the past, and it has also saved the day when I needed a bootable clone.

    Online Backup Services

    When it comes to offsite backups, online backup services are becoming more popular. While the two issues with them are they depend on your Internet speed (my upload is generally fast enough), as well as for those with broadband caps, they can run up your Internet bill (I have unlimited), for those who can use them, they’re a quick way to backup critical files no matter how catestropic the event is that occurs (in my case, living in the heart of Tornado Alley, it’s a good idea to have an online backup).

    In the past, I’ve used various services such as Mozy to backup my home directory, CrashPlan Central for full-fledged online backups, and years ago I used an app from Apple called Backup as part of .Mac and MobileMe (the predacessors to iCloud). The issue is all of these services somehow discontinued and morphed into something else, which is another issue one can encounter with online backups (if the online backup provider goes out of business or drops the service).

    I’ve now moved my online backup to WebMate Drive, and while a little pricer than some if you need a ton of storage, I’ve found the cost worth it for a few reasons: 1. WebMate is an establed company, and WebMate Drive has been around for a while. 2. WebMate offers the best support I’ve found yet with online backups, and 3. WebMate offers standards-based ways to access WebMate Drive (in addition to their web interface, I can access WebMate Drive over: FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, or AFP (Apple Filing Protocol). Therefore, I’m not vendor-locked in to proprietary solutions to access my content. WebMate Drive can work with multiple backup software solutions as well (Time Machine, GoodSync, Super Duper, Carbon Copy Cloner, Arq), and my personal favorite has been Arq. Arq is simple to use, offers flexible features when it comes to choosing what to backup, how much upload bandwidth to use, and how much storage to use on the drive, and backups have been quick and reliable. I use it to backup my Mac to WebMate Drive and have been super pleased with it.

    These are a handful of solutions that make backing up Macs locally or to the cloud easy. Have questions? Let me know!

    Nathan Parker

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    • #1329444

      Nathan Parker,

      Thanks for this comprehensive coverage of backups and restores. I use Time Machine (with a 2 TB external hard disk).

      I have been trying to find a clear statement on the following, which you have now provided in your entry, above: ” [Time Machine]…it’s similar to System Restore and File History on Windows rolled together, plus a full backup as well

      I understand that TM is not an archival, but a disk-imaging system: it only contains copies of the files in the Mac as they were at the last updating of TM; if one deletes something after that from the hard disk, then it will be gone also from TM after its next updating.

      What I am not so sure of how it is supposed to work is the “restore” part. This means not only imaging one’s data on TM, but also the state of the system at the time of updating TM. What I am trying to find out is how, exactly, one does a full system restore with what is saved in TM. Perhaps you could comment on this? Thanks.

      Ex-Windows user (Win. 98, XP, 7); since mid-2017 using also macOS. Presently on Monterey 12.15 & sometimes running also Linux (Mint).

      MacBook Pro circa mid-2015, 15" display, with 16GB 1600 GHz DDR3 RAM, 1 TB SSD, a Haswell architecture Intel CPU with 4 Cores and 8 Threads model i7-4870HQ @ 2.50GHz.
      Intel Iris Pro GPU with Built-in Bus, VRAM 1.5 GB, Display 2880 x 1800 Retina, 24-Bit color.
      macOS Monterey; browsers: Waterfox "Current", Vivaldi and (now and then) Chrome; security apps. Intego AV

    • #1337426

      In terms of Time Machine, it does keep an archived copy of deleted files until the backup drive is full, then (and only then) it begins tossing older backups.

      Therefore, if you delete a file from your Mac, you can enter Time Machine and browse to a previous backup to restore the deleted file. I’ve used it before when accidentally tossing something.

      In terms of a full restore using Time Machine, there are a couple of ways to perform a restore:

      1. Boot into macOS Recovery, then select Restore from a Time Machine Backup.

      2. Reinstall macOS onto the drive, then during the Setup Assistant, use Migration Assistant to migrate the data from a Time Machine backup over (Migration Assistant can be launched after the Setup Assistant is complete if need be).

      macOS Recovery installs a recovery partition onto your drive. If the recovery partition has been wiped out or it’s a new drive, your Mac should be able to use Internet Recovery. There is also a way to create a bootable macOS recovery installer using a flash drive. Here are some instructions:





      A Bootable Clone is a system image that is not an archive, so it’ll mirror your drive exactly the way it is with each backup.

      The cloud backups I’ve mentioned are archives as well and only toss older files when you set the cloud service to a certain limit.

      Nathan Parker

      2 users thanked author for this post.
    • #1338638

      Thank you, Nathan Parker. You have given enough information already on TM and its uses, I think, that one can take it from here to learn more about the details on one’s own.

      Ex-Windows user (Win. 98, XP, 7); since mid-2017 using also macOS. Presently on Monterey 12.15 & sometimes running also Linux (Mint).

      MacBook Pro circa mid-2015, 15" display, with 16GB 1600 GHz DDR3 RAM, 1 TB SSD, a Haswell architecture Intel CPU with 4 Cores and 8 Threads model i7-4870HQ @ 2.50GHz.
      Intel Iris Pro GPU with Built-in Bus, VRAM 1.5 GB, Display 2880 x 1800 Retina, 24-Bit color.
      macOS Monterey; browsers: Waterfox "Current", Vivaldi and (now and then) Chrome; security apps. Intego AV

    • #1342324

      Glad to assist. With the additional links I’ve sent over, that essentially covers everything you should ever need to know about Time Machine.

      Nathan Parker

    • #2173445

      Someone on here was recently asking about hard drives, so I wanted to take a moment to add a brief backup drive purchase guide to this thread for those who need to know about purchasing a good hard drive to use with backing up a Mac.

      • USB thumb-drive flash drives are generally too small for reliably backing up a Mac. Those are mostly handy for manually backing up files or moving files between Macs.
      • Hard drives either come in traditional “spinning” hard drives or solid-state flash drives called SSDs. SSDs are speedy and reliable, although I haven’t invested in them for my primary backup drives yet since they are pricer than traditional “spinning” hard drives.
      • Hard drives come in internal or external drives. For backing up Macs, unless you have a Mac Pro with extra drive slots or purchase a drive enclosure such as a NAS (Network Attached Storage) box, external drives are what you’ll need to backup a Mac.
      • In terms of external hard drive connections, USB 3 (USB-A) is currently the most popular, cost-effective, and still generally speedy. USB-C is slowly becoming the new standard, and many Macs now support USB-C. Many Macs also support Thunderbolt (currently Thunderbolt 3, older Macs support Thunderbolt 2 or 1). Thunderbolt is speedier than USB, but it is costly. Unless you’re moving a ton of data over regularly, it’s generally not worth the extra investment. Older Macs support Firewire 800 or 400. The most beneficial Macs to use Firewire on are older PowerPC Macs or Macs that only support USB 2 since Firewire is speedier than USB 2, plus PowerPC Macs can only be booted from a FireWire drive and not a USB drive (Intel Macs can be booted from USB, FireWire, and Thunderbolt drives). Some external hard drives also use a technology called eSATA, but Macs don’t support eSATA out of the box.
      • For backing up multiple Macs, a NAS (Network Attached Storage) box that plugs into a router is a handy investment, since it can centralize backups. I’ve had excellent experience with Drobo NAS boxes.
      • External hard drives come in two varieties: desktop or mobile. Desktop drives generally require an AC adapter to power them, whereas mobile drives can draw power from the machine. It is good to keep in mind which one would offer the most convenient way to power it.
      • In terms of brands, I’ve had the most success with Western Digital brand for traditional “spinning” drives and Samsung for SSDs. I’ve used other brands, but Western Digital have been rock-solid and what I’m using for all my backup drives now.

      Nathan Parker

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