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The Importance Of Backing Up and the Increasing Virus Threat

Do Mac users need to lose sleep over the malware that plagues our PC using friends? Do we need to load up on antivirus and antispyware and antirootkit software? Probably not. There is a better solution: bootable clones.


The more knowledgeable PC users know that the greatest vulvernability to malware assault resides in user habits, opening email attachments and clicking at inappropriate sites. The best PC antimalware publishers often have trouble keeping up with the lastest that the evildoers have produced. There are several new viruses released into the wild daily. Their number is approaching 200K. None of them has any effect on the Apple platform.

Symptoms of a Virus Infection

When the day arrives that Mac users experience abnormal computer behavior resulting from malware, such as alarming notices or impaired function of applications, they will notice that their antiimalware and firewall have been disabled. Some of the most recent malware disables the abillity of the user to uninstall the new arrival. In short, the most sophisticated malware disables all known defenses, before it gets down to business. Then the hard drive usually becomes very sluggish or unusable. It is often possible to offload data before reformatting and reinstalling the operating system; followed by installing applications, settings, passwords and data. Much is usually lost along the way, along with hours or days of time.

Viruses versus Spyware versus Rootkits

For a long time it has been possible to think of viruses as malware that could place irritating little notices on your computer or permanently disable it. Spyware has a more commercial intent. It inveigles its way onto your hard drive and recruits your computer into an army of robots (“bots”) that can be called upon to forward spam. It is often downloaded with Kazaa, Limewire or other freeware that enabled questionable activity. The most common symptom of spyware presence is pronounced slowing of all computer activity. Today, the distinction between the two is blurred. Some spyware can be as malignant as a virus.

Rootkits are a relatively new class of malware that get themselves installed so deeply into the system that they are not detectable by normal antimalware tools. They enable remote control of a machine for evil intent.

The Elegant Solution: Bootable Clones

Enterprise IT pros, photographers and videographers who live by their digital product have long known of the importance of backup; usually making multiple copies. These are generally data or file backups. Ted Landau, developer of MacFixIt and a member of the first generation of Mac columnists, has famously said that you have not backed up until you have done it twice. He relates how in a couple of clicks he erased his hard drive and, in a momentary lapse, his only backup drive, as well.

The rationale behind data backup was orginally being prepared for the failure of your computer’s drive. Leopard’s Time Machine does an admirable job of backup, but neither of these methods is a complete solution to a corrupted drive. Bootable clones are.

A clone is a bit-for-bit copy. When you have cloned your computer’s hard drive to an external drive you have an alternative to boot from, generally using using the Start Up Preference Panel or Target Mode, if connected by Firewire. (Pre-Intel Macs can can only boot through a Firewire connection. Intel Macs can boot from an external drive connected with USB 2 or Firewire.)

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Comments [8]

8 Comments to “The Importance Of Backing Up and the Increasing Virus Threat”

Jeff @ December 3rd, 2008 at 6:22 pm
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Good piece man. People forget how important this is.

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jojo22 @ December 3rd, 2008 at 6:23 pm
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I have a RAID setup, it’s perhaps not as simple and easy to setup as what you suggest, but it sure is reliable.

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hero @ December 3rd, 2008 at 7:45 pm
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I have two internal hd’s in my mac pro, and then a lacie external that I use. I need more reliability. I know.

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Ryan @ December 4th, 2008 at 1:58 am
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I’m fanatical about backing up; it’s always good to see this topic addressed.

My backup centers around a FW Drobo with 2 partitions. One partition houses a bootable clone, the other is backup for my actual data which gets sync’d each night with Chronosync. The Drobo has worked perfectly for this, and IMHO is so much easier to deal with than a traditional RAID.

Off-site storage is also something that *should* be done. Whether a cheap USB drive stored at a friends house, or online services like Mozy or Jungledisk, having a copy of your data off-site is critical, but it seems few people actually make the effort.

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OneMORE @ December 4th, 2008 at 8:48 am
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great post man, can’t ever hear this stuff too much

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jr @ December 4th, 2008 at 11:04 am
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what’ crazy is that i have been trying to figure out to get bootable clones going, and now I can. thanx man.

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referee @ December 4th, 2008 at 11:29 am
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I like “The Elegant Solution” part. When put that way, most people should have a clear choice on how they will go about backing up their data. It should be obvious that the “the elegant solution” you propose is a winner.

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Mike @ December 4th, 2008 at 2:28 pm
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I’m really surprised that the vast majority of people have never run anti-virus software. I always assume people have the software and just run it every once in a while. I use ClamXAV when I want to scan a file I’ve downloaded or received via email, but I don’t have it set up to continually scan. I read a post today at Mac Guru Lounge on the Top 5 Mac Security Tips for the Holidays, which also talked about running AV software.

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