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Mac Tips: Backup (Part 2)

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Last week I covered backing up your Mac with Mozy -- a way to get your most important files backed up online for free. But because the free Mozy solution only stores up to 2 GB of data, you'll need to look elsewhere for a complete backup that covers your music, photos, and so on. You could pay a subscription for the Mozy full service, but this can get expensive over time -- and it can be very slow to upload tons of data over your home internet connection.

For Mac users, the obvious choice for full-drive backup is Time Machine, a new feature in Mac OS X Leopard. The ultimate "set it and forget it" backup, Time Machine uses an external drive (USB or Firewire) to back up your Mac's hard drive. It works in the background, waking up every hour or so to back up any newly changed files. It requires zero user intervention beyond attaching the backup drive. Setup is extremely simple: just plug in a new USB or Firewire drive to your Mac running Leopard, and you'll be asked whether you want to use that drive for Time Machine. Easy! Note: the initial backup will take some time...you may want to make sure your Mac is set not to fall asleep during this backup, so you can be sure to have a complete backup the first time. Later backups only copy what has changed, and usually only take a few minutes. All of the backups happen in the background, so you can continue to use your Mac while the backup is in progress.

To retrieve files from Time Machine, you can enter the crazy 3D Time Machine view (pictured above), where you zoom back in time to find specific files. A timeline on the right shows backups over time, so you can easily zip to a specific date and see what was in a given folder. Personally, I've never used this feature -- it's rare that I actually lose a single file or want to go back to an old version like this. (Though Apple seems to think this is a really zippy demo, so you'll see it in lots of online reviews.) But what I do use is the whole-disk restore feature: you can boot from any Leopard install DVD, plug in a Time Machine backup drive, and use it to restore your Mac's main hard drive. This is extremely useful in case your main drive dies and is replaced with a new one, or you want to clone your drive onto a new Mac.

Apple just released Time Capsule, which is an Airport Extreme wireless router with a built-in Time Machine backup disk (either 500 GB or 1 Terabyte [!]). This further simplifies backup, since you don't even have to plug in a drive -- it's available wirelessly. Also, Time Capsule is handy if you have a lot of Macs in the house and want to back them up to a single, central place without carrying a disk around. So if you need a wireless router AND you want to do Time Machine, check out Time Capsule. But if you just want to get started with Time Machine, an external disk (USB/Firewire) will be cheaper. Generally you want your backup disk to have at least 1.5x-2x more capacity than you're using on your Mac's main drive. Thus, if you're using 60 GB on your laptop's drive, you'll want your Time Machine backup drive to be in the 90-120 GB range, at minimum.

One thing to keep in mind: if your Time Machine backup disk is in the same location as your Mac, you could lose both of them in a disaster. So if your house burns down (let's hope it doesn't), you'd likely lose both your Mac and the backup. If it's possible for you to store the backup disk in some other location (for example, at work, if you bring a laptop back and forth), you'll have a bit more security. This is also why you'll also want to use a solution like Mozy to back up your most critical files online, thus hopefully protected from any disaster that might befall your Mac. By using this two-prong backup strategy, you'll be protected against a wide variety of possible problems.

Thanks for reading about backup! Windows users, please chime in using the comments if you have suggestions for Windows backup solutions. Also if anyone has a request for a future Mac Tip, please leave a note!

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Hate Waiting at Baggage Claim? Here's How to Make Sure Your Suitcase Arrives First
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Air travel involves plenty of waiting, from standing in long security lines to preparing for takeoff. And even after you land, your trip is stalled until you locate your luggage on the carousel. Luckily for impatient fliers, there are several ways to game the system and ensure a speedy suitcase delivery once you step off the plane, according to Travel + Leisure.

To score true VIP luggage treatment, ask the representative behind the check-in counter if they can attach a “fragile” sticker to your bag. Suitcases with these kinds of labels are often loaded last and unloaded first. (Plus, they receive the type of kid-glove treatment that ultimately helps them last longer.)

Keep in mind, however, that you’ll need a new tag each time you fly. If it looks old, or was issued by a different airline, the crew might not pay attention to it, according to Condé Nast Traveler. Also, consider upping your suitcase game, as quality, hard-shell bags look like they contain delicate or important items. Their appearance—along with the fragile sticker—will inspire baggage handlers to give them special treatment.

Another trick that can shave a few minutes off your wait time is making sure you're the last person to check in, instead of rushing to be first. If you can't resist getting to the airport early, try asking if you can check it at the gate. This could make your bag one of the last on the plane, and thus one of the first taken out. This method isn't surefire, however, as loading and unloading systems vary among flights.

And if all else fails, Thrillist advises that you try upgrading your flight. Some airlines give priority to bags that belong to elite travelers and business class, meaning they’ll be stored separately from other luggage and come out first. Good luck! No matter what happens, at least you can't have it worse than the lady who had to wait 20 years for her bag to show up.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Use Wi-Fi? Your Device Is at Risk in the Latest Security Breach
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Another day, another way our personal data is being compromised. This time, the latest threat to your credit card numbers, social security information, and other personal data comes from a more-than-ubiquitous source: your Wi-Fi.

As Ars Technica and The Independent report, a computer security researcher has discovered a major issue with Wi-Fi that can be used to decrypt your data. The vulnerability is the result of weakness in the WPA2 protocol that secures modern Wi-Fi networks. Hackers can steal sensitive data that has been decrypted using a method called KRACK, or Key Reinstallation Attacks. While we can't know yet if hackers have actually taken advantage of the vulnerability, its existence puts every Wi-Fi-enabled device at risk.

“If your device supports Wi-Fi, it is most likely affected,” Mathy Vanhoef, the Belgium-based researcher who discovered the exploit, said. That means your phone, your computer, and even your Wi-Fi light bulbs. The hacker only needs to be within range of your Wi-Fi—not logged into your network—to take advantage of it and steal your data. However, Ars Technica reports that Android and Linux users are more vulnerable to severe attacks than Windows or iOS users.

What should I do to protect myself?

Unfortunately, changing your passwords won’t help this time around. All you can do is wait for security updates for your devices. In the meantime, treat every Wi-Fi connection like it’s the public network at Starbucks. As in, don’t go sharing all your personal data. You can make yourself safer by using a VPN. According to cybersecurity expert Robert Graham, these kind of attacks can’t defeat VPNs.

Most companies will no doubt be releasing security patches to fix this issue ASAP, so keep a look out for any available updates.

[h/t The Independent]

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