S writes in with a question about data loss and iPads:

What are your back up plans when it comes to “Digital Paperwork”?

I recently had the scenario of my iPad wiping all my files on the way to a wedding! Not sure how, but everything was there when I left home and gone when I arrived at the location! My iPad appeared to have done an automatic update, which were previously turned off!?

It wasn’t a total fiasco as I do have back ups in place. I had the ceremony in the cloud and also on my phone. I don’t however upload paperwork to the cloud, it stays encrypted on my laptop and I airdrop it to my ipad. I’m a bit paranoid about loading paperwork to the cloud. Instead I take blank paper copies with me for an emergency, so I hand wrote the forms prior to the ceremony. Luckily I’m always early and had time to do this.

This is the first time in 18 months of being digital that this has happened, to say I almost threw up when I saw my iPad empty of files would be an understatement. But everything was fine in the end.

So my other questions are: Do you have any suggestions for how I could handle this better? Also, has this happened to either of you? If so, what was your solution?

Hey S! I keep a pretty nerdy system, but it helps me sleep at night, here’s how I would get around and prevent your issue, but also deal with it if it happened to me:

1) The device: I’m not sure what happened to your iPad, maybe you could be more precise about what was gone when you mean “all my files”. Which app or which system etc. But with my iPad it’s not a place my kids play, it’s a business device, not for kids. It’s secure, as is my Apple ID. I’m using two-factor authentication and a six-digit passcode so the device is secure. I do regular iPadOS updates and software updates and I leave it on power and on wifi overnight so it backs up to iCloud and maintains a healthy system. It might all seem a bit overkill, but that’s an optimum use case. Also, I wonder how much storage you have, did you fill the storage up and thus make it unusable? Finally, I always get the 4G/5G iPad so that it has its own internet access away from the office. Software updates are good, but I don’t do them the day of a wedding. Leave updates on automatically so they’re done early and often, but check your iPad has all the data ready before you leave.

2) The app/system: Where are your files stored? You mention being against storing them in the cloud, but the cloud isn’t as evil or insecure as it was years ago. I’m a Dropbox guy as well, and I write all my writing in plain text – Markdown to be precise – but it saves as plain text so any app ever made by any computer ever can read my files. As for the marriage documents, they’re obviously PDFs and I store them in my Dropbox, in a folder system like this: \Dropbox\Celebrant PDFs\Client folder name and the Client folder name is the year then a dash, then the month, then the day, of their wedding, then a reference to the couple. So if Jack and Jill are getting married today, their folder name is 2022-08-08 Jack and Jill, and in that folder, I keep all their legal paperwork and info. I trust Dropbox as a company, and my Dropbox account is secure as you can make it. It’s more secure than a filing cabinet in an office.

3) The backup: So with backups, the rule is: one place where data exists is seen as none, two is one, and three is two. You need at least two. I want everything to be backed up twice, which means it exists in three places. So what that means for me is that I write my scripts and notes in plain text files and save them in my Dropbox. My PDFs for the marriage paperwork are also in my Dropbox folder. That Dropbox folder is accessible on my iPad, iPhone, and MacBook, which I’ll kind of classify as one – secondly it exists on the Dropbox servers, and thirdly, I have a computer in my office – a Synology server – that keeps a backup of all my Dropbox files. That way if Dropbox goes offline or if it shuts down or whatever, all my Dropbox files are in my office – and I can access my Synology remotely. As for devices, I have an iPad and an iPhone, both of which can be used to read my documents and also both can be used to sign documents in Notability. So if my iPad was broken or whatever could happen, I can revert to my iPhone.

Talking about backups, I have my MacBook backing up to a Time Machine external hard drive and also I pay $5 a month to back up my computer to Backblaze.

So at this time, a client’s marriage paperwork exists on my Mac, my iPad, maybe an iPhone, on my Synology server, in the Dropbox cloud, and in the Backblaze cloud. I trust my multiple secure locations over paper. Paper gets wet, can get lost, can tear.

Now the hard thing to wrap all of this up in – is that all of these services should be very secure. They should use different passwords – I recommend using a password manager app – and each one should be using two-factor authentication.

My data goal is that my “carry kit” of my MacBook, iPhone, and iPad, can be stolen/broken/lost and I experience no data loss. I might experience financial loss, but not business or data loss. Secondly, if my house is compromised or affected by fire or flood, once again there is no data loss, just financial loss. Thirdly, if the internet ceases to exist, then I have my office and my carry kit.

Overkill, yes. But am I on A Current Affair? No.