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I am using external hard drives to archive my data, how can I make them as safe as possible?

By Myriam Fellous-Sigrist, on 30 November 2015

A hard drive sitting on your bookshelf might be useful for storing your data, but it is not reliable or secure enough for long-term preservation (memory or USB sticks are even worst). For safer options to preserve data, see our guide on how to store & archive your research data (whether digital or not).

If you really need to use an external hard drive, here are a few emergency tips for taking care of your drive and make sure that you can still read the data in the coming years.

At the minimum you should:

  1. spin the disk (i.e. plug in the hard drive in your computer and check that it works) at least once a year (every 6 months is better);
  2. make sure that the drive is protected from direct sunlight, humidity and changes in temperature;
  3. to avoid any shock to the drive, don’t store them too high up on your book shelves and move them around as little as possible;
  4. finally, if you are including a budget line for portable storage, consider solid state drives (SSDs) instead of mechanical hard drives. They are currently more expensive, but less susceptible to mechanical damage.

Always remember that if you plan to keep personal data on a portable drive, you should take steps to ensure that it is secure, as described in the UCL Data Protection Policy. One of the best ways is to use encryption; the UCL Information Security team offers helpful advice and step-by-step instructions to encrypt files, drives and emails.

When you have a bit more time, it is a good idea to make a copy of the data that you don’t need on a regular basis and store them with a UCL filestore. This can be done by compressing (with 7Zip for instance) the folders that are not often used and storing them on your NDrive (100GB available to all staff and students).

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