Back up your files in online drives to protect against problems

Make sure you have a backup of your files, even when they are online

Back up files stored in your online drive

It is always a good idea to have backups, but when it comes to online cloud storage, what then? Do you have backups of Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox and others? Do you need backups of these?

Online drives from companies like Google, Microsoft and others are surely backed up and so you may not think that you need to back up the files you store on them, but this is not true. Wherever there is only one copy of your files, there is the potential to lose them.

How could you lose access to your files stored in the cloud?

Breaking terms and conditions

You may not realise it, but the files you store online may be monitored. They may be scanned for malware, spam, copyright content like video and music, and more. The content could trigger all sorts of alarms at the hosting company and this could lead to access to your files being blocked.

You might even lose access to your whole account if the violations are sufficiently serious. The transgression might even be accidental and a file you download from the web and then store in your online drive could contain content that triggers warnings at the cloud host, like a virus.

Beware of bugs

It may come as a surprise to you that the content of the files you store online are monitored, but many people became acutely aware of this when Google locked people out of their own Google Docs files.

“On Tuesday, October 31, we mistakenly blocked access to some of our users’ files, including Google Docs. This was due to a short-lived bug that incorrectly flagged some files as violating our terms of service (TOS).” Google blog

Some people had spent a lot of time working on large documents and understandably they were extremely concerned when they could not access their files.

It was a bug in this case and it was quickly fixed, but for a time people were locked out. It demonstrates that Google actively monitors accounts and files, and has the power to lock you out if it thinks you have broken the rules.

Could you lose access to your files? Writing about certain subjects could trigger the lockout.

Hacked accounts

How secure is the password that you use for your online drive storage? Making it simple enough to remember makes it insecure and easily guessable. Making it impossible to guess also makes it impossible to remember. It is a dilemma. What do you do?

People can and do lose access to their Microsoft, Google, Dropbox and other online accounts. If someone gained access to your account, they could change the password and you would then lose access to everything, including files, emails, photos, work documents and so on. It would be a major disaster.

Back up your online drive

Google drive folder on the PC's disk driveHow do you back up online storage? That depends on how it is used. For example, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox and other cloud storage services provide an app to sync a folder on the computer’s disk with the online drive.

If you have a OneDrive folder (it has been part of the operating system since Windows 8), if you have a Google Drive folder and use Backup and Sync, or if you have a synced Dropbox folder, you are half way there.

Your PC contains a copy of everything, but if files are deleted online this will be mirrored on the PC and files will be deleted there too. Normally you want this to happen and the folder on the PC should be kept the same as the online storage. You would not want to sync if a bug or malware deleted or encrypted your files, but could you stop it?

In addition to syncing a folder on the disk with your online storage, you should back up the PC’s disk. The online drive sync folder is normally stored in your personal user folder, such as C:\Users\YourName\Google Drive or C:\Users\YourName\OneDrive. Backup your personal user folder and you back up your online drive.

There are lots of backup programs to choose from and three favourites of mine are AOMEI BackUpper freeware, EaseUS Todo Backup Free, and Paragon backup & Recovery Free. There's a pattern there - they are all free! Upgrades to more powerful versions are available, but the freebies are fine.

Related: Back up your Windows PC using a brilliant free backup tool
Related: Supercharge File History backups with these tweaks

A simple, but effective way to back up your files is by using File History, the backup tool built into Windows 10. It copies all your personal files, including synced online drive folders, to a USB drive automatically every hour or whatever time period you prefer.

Open the Settings app and click Update & security. Click Backup on the left and then on the right turn on the switch. The first time it is used you must select the place to store the backups, such as a USB drive, but from then on it is automatic.

File History in the Settings app in Windows 10

Click More options to access the settings. It shows which folders are backed up and you can confirm that OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox or whatever you use is being backed up.

File History in the Settings app in Windows 10

Check the date of the last backup. I find it sometimes stops and you need to manually click the Back up now button to get it started again.

Syncing problems

Syncing a folder on the disk with your online storage might not be good enough. If you create online documents, spreadsheets and slide shows using Google Docs for example, backing up the files on the PC will not help because they are simply links to content online.

To back up Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, the documents must be downloaded as Microsoft Office files or some other widely supported file format. When you have finished creating a document for example, click File, Download as, Microsoft Word.

Save it to the same place in the Google Drive synced folder. You will then have the Google Docs file, which is really just a link, and the Word file that contains the content. Backup software can then back up the document to a USB drive.


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