UMass Boston

Backing Up Your Data

There are a variety of ways to back up your data. Which you choose depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of data and how important it is to you. (For example, a class paper needs to be backed up, but isn't as sensitive as bank records or a tax return, so copying it onto a USB flash drive might be adequate.)

Always back up anything you want to keep, and if it's important, have more than one backup. For instance, you may back up all your data to an external hard drive and to OneDrive, or to a hard drive in your office and a second one in your home. (Be sure to encrypt sensitive data when storing to a hard drive.) 

Sensitive data such as patient records (HIPAA), student records (FERPA), and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) on Massachusetts residents (Massachusetts Data Privacy law) require special handling, including encryption. If you obtain data from a third party for research, the provider may require special storage or restrictions on data access. Contact the IT Service Desk to arrange a consultation with the IT Security if you would like to discuss secure storage of your sensitive data.

You may find that you are using multiple backup solutions at once, such as iCloud for your music and photos and OneDrive for UMass Boston files. The important thing is to make sure everything is backed up, and nothing sensitive is stored incorrectly. Just remember: Only back up the files you want to keep!


Licensed users, including faculty, staff, and students, receive personal storage with online access to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You can collaborate with others and even work on a document at the same time as a colleague. In addition, there is an app that allows you to sync a folder on your computer to your OneDrive. Anything you keep in that folder is automatically backed up to OneDrive, and if you set up OneDrive Sync on a second computer, it keeps all the documents in sync. There is also an app that can access your OneDrive files on most mobile devices. 

Setting up OneDrive Sync in Office 365
Learn more about OneDrive for Business

OneDrive storage is highly secure and complies with all applicable data storage laws. UMass Boston is chosen OneDrive for Business for storage of sensitive information, such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII). However, the security of a VPN connection is useless if the computer you are using it on is not secure! Make sure your computer is free of any malware and is running up-to-date security patches and anti-virus software. Visit Scan My PC to check your operating system and browser, and to see some safe computing tips.

Time Machine

This is software built in to the Mac OS that can back up your entire Mac to an external hard drive. The external drive should be at least twice the size of your Mac’s hard drive. Once you set it up, the backups are automatic and you can restore not only your entire Mac in case of a crash, but previous versions of files (in case you delete a chapter of your book and later change your mind) or even old files you erased. The larger the external hard drive, the more old files and versions of files Time Machine can keep.

Encryption is optional and highly recommended.

How to use Time Machine to back up or restore your Mac


Included with your Apple account, iCloud offers 5 GB of free storage, mainly used to back up an iPad or iPhone, but also backs up photos, music, and documents used by Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. You can buy more storage through your Apple account. iCloud security is very good but the university does not recommend it for FERPA, HIPAA, or the Massachusetts data protection rules.

iCloud Security

iCloud FAQ

What should I back up?

Anything you want to keep! Some common places you may find sites you want to back up include:

Windows: The contents of your user directory (Computer > Local Disk C: > Users > your username), especially Desktop, Downloads, Favorites, My documents, My Music, My Pictures, and My Video.

Mac: The contents of your user directory (Your hard disk > Users > your username), especially Desktop, Documents, and Movies. (Photos and Music are probably backed up in iCloud.)

What about flash drives and external hard drives?

Flash drives are useful for quick backups, especially of documents you are working on and want to carry with you, but you should never store anything sensitive (bank or tax records, for instance) on them, and they should never be the only place you store something, because they are fragile, hard to encrypt, and easy to lose. External hard drives can have the capacity to store all your document, and many come with built-in backup software. They are very useful as long as you encrypt them to protect any sensitive documents.

Learn more about encryption

Information Technology Services
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