Tag Archives: backup

Data theft too unethical? (or the value of backups)

A thief who respects data and information. Illustration: Anna Ericsson

Västerbottens Kuriren reports (in Swedish) that the story of a laptop thief in Umeå, Sweden, reached international interest.

Being reported all over western civilisation (at least), people seem to think this was a respectable thief. Stealing laptops is of course dirty business and an obvious crime – theft. However, even though data can be duplicated indefinitely at virtually no cost – while physical hardware can’t – stored information is often much more valuable.

“Often when people lose their computers and cameras, it is understandably not the gadget itself that is the most important. The content is often irreplaceable,” he told the newspaper.

Anyone can buy a laptop today. Just about every higher-grade student in Sweden probably has their own computer, either a laptop or the equivalent in the form of a smartphone. What is stored in memory is mostly junk, I suppose, but photos have a certain value that can’t be reinstated. You can’t recreate a photograph from scratch, just as you can’t recreate a memory. A laptop, though, can  be found at a junkyard in pretty good shape just because it’s “a couple of years old” or something.

Going back to the professor he didn’t just have photos and memories on the laptop. He had 10 years of his life, including scientific research, apparently. From what I understand, this was the single copy available of most of his data. In a single bag. At a single place in space-time.

“It is my life. I have documented everything in it that has happened in the last 10 years and beyond,” he told the newspaper.

“Unfortunately, I have been bad at backing up my computer.”

Why isn’t there more focus on this issue (in general. everywhere.)? The theft itself is common as laptops run away on their own all the time. Also it’s interesting and slightly humorous that the thief actually returns all data which is stolen – perhaps because he realised there’s more than material value in the documents. At least in the fashion that he can’t sell it. But there’s of course no guarantee that data isn’t returned, unless the user itself takes responsibility – and backs stuff up.

“Just as night follows day, and Autumn follows Summer, so should backups follow work. As you work, so should you backup that work.”

The above quote is from the Tao of Backup story which I recommend everyone to read. Having read it, you may either choose to be wise and follow the advice and ingenuity of the master – or you can be foolish to keep doing what you’re (not) doing. Any method is better than none, and many different methods are better than few.

Besides all this you should also care about encryption, but that’s an entirely different matter. Backup is redundancy, encryption is security. You probably need a bit of both to be sure that when you loose your USB keys (stolen or falling out of the pocket) you won’t lose neither your life nor your identity.

Read the story about the Swedish professor and smile to it if you want to. Just remember that it may be you who loses data next time. Be it through theft, clumpsiness, your house catching on fire, ultra-strong magnets or merely hardware failure – all of them require the same preemptive solution: a healthy backup routine.

MySQL replication

Uhm. I’m about to fiddle about with MySQL database replication to load balance database access. It’ll be interesting to see how well it actually works.

If I manage fine, it will finally be a good time to centralise my database management. This includes getting a single mail server db for accounts/password, instead of having two slightly different mail server setups which can’t work together – instead of backup MX servers etc.

So by centralising I don’t mean a monolithic setup. More like implementing identical systems working as redundant fallbacks, while maintaining a single entry point. Though the entry point might still be rather redundant if I work some black IP magic.

Also it will increase backup simplicity, which I have noticed is beginning to feel necessary. For backup I’m currently using sloppy rsyncing between systems. This could easily be outsourced to two or more separate systems just filled to the brim with harddrives. Tape is so expensive. :)

Mail backup with rsync and cron

Quick and dirty crontab, but ’tis good enough I suppose?

0 1-23 * * * rsync -avP /srv/mail/ /backup/auto/mail/hourly/
0 0 * * * rsync -avP --del /srv/mail/ /backup/auto/mail/hourly/
@daily rsync -avP --del /srv/mail/ /backup/auto/mail/daily/
@weekly rsync -avP --del /srv/mail/ /backup/auto/mail/weekly/
@monthly rsync -avP --del /srv/mail/ /backup/auto/mail/monthly/

Further on, /backup will be nfs-mounted over OpenVPN or similar. Currently offline-backup is done once a week over the internets to two separate locations.

Database is on a separate system and handled there in a similar fashion. Reports are automatically mailed through crontab’s output catcher.

However I’m still pondering how to do /etc neatly. I’m guessing filelist argument to rsync with the stuff that just have to be replaced. Configurations are rather identical between Debian/Ubuntu machines at least.

Data in our time

We’re entering the information age. Information, data and what comes of it is rising in importance. The following comment at slashdot, to an article about backing up “the cloud”, is most likely the result of the process of moving into a new, information-driven age of our society.

Insurance means nothing. Once your data is lost, it is lost. Whether or not you get money out of them in compensation for the lost data is almost non-important. I would say that anything you lost would be completely non-producable, even if you had all the money in the world. A picture of your family on vacation, can’t be reproduced. You can go on another vacation, but it won’t be the same vacation. Any document you have typed out, could be typed out again, but it would be different each time. Unless you are talking about lost music files, in which case, you could download them again, but that’s kind of the same as having a backup. Any data that’s really important isn’t going to reproducible.


This is what the general public will associate with the information age. Their own data. What’s personal to them. The general World Consciousness(tm) will have its own important data, namely that of our combined (usable?) knowledge. The sum of all our personal thoughts, ideas etc. Anything

I have to disagree with the comment’s author, and don’t think I chose it because it’s in any meaning important or unique, and say that really important data may be reproduced as well. It’s the nature of information, knowledge and similar to be discovered. Anything important will be possible to reproduce, maybe not reconstruct (like a backup) but reproduce, because everything comes from something else.

Of course to agree on this means your view of finished productions must be similar to mine. I.e. an actor or the image quality of a movie isn’t part of what’s unique and special. The methods behind creating it, the story – maybe certain graphical elements – as well as the resulting interpretations of having seen the movie are separately important from the actual atomic level layout of the film rolls.

But then one might ask oneself, in a typical philosophical smart-ass fashion, if the quoted post is important because it has generated new information and new thoughts. Or whether my post here is totally unimportant because it originates from debatably unimportant data.