Back up your bytes

Hard drive backups won’t protect data from theft, fire, or flood. You need remote backup systems, such as CrashPlan, that automatically protect data by backing up and storing information to local drives, other computers, or online. These systems typically charge an annual fee from $50 to several hundred dollars, depending on how much data you back up and how quickly you want to retrieve it.

Protect your paper and discs

Store your most important papers (insurance policies, Social Security cards, passports, auto titles), and other data-filled items such as CDs and DVDs off-site in a safe deposit box ($50 to $100 annually), a fireproof safe bolted to a basement slab ($150 to $1,000) or a melt-proof media safe.

Media safes constructed by companies such as FireKing will block heat transfer and protect data from meltdowns. A 650-pound, 1.5-cubic-foot safe that can hold 140 CDs typically costs $3,000; smaller ones that hold 20 CDs cost about $400. Condense paper poundage by scanning documents into your computer, then backing up online.

Say hello to your computer’s security system

Get to know your computer’s built-in security features (controlled via the system preferences panel) to protect data meant for your eyes only. Most computers allow you to drag data into a single password-protected folder, or to “disable automatic login” so the machine won’t boot up without a password.

If you want to go whole hog, activate your built-in encryption program or install a third-party program such as the free download True Crypt, which scrambles every file on your computer. Without the password, no one can see anything. The downside: If you lose or forget the password, adios data.

If you got a low tolerance for high-tech data security measures, then the best advice to protect data is probably the simplest: Install a solid door with a good lock.

Take the toast out of power surges

Protect data against electrical fluctuations that fry data with a surge protection power strip ($50) or whole house surge protectors that an electrician installs on electrical panels, cable, or data lines. These units cost between $200 and $300 installed and can stop a 40,000-amp surge in its tracks.

But surge protectors can’t compensate for improper wiring or insufficient power coming into the house. Hire an electrician to inspect wiring and upgrade your electrical panel to carry 200 amps, which is typical of most modern homes. In a lightning storm, unplug computers and printers, which will be toast after a direct hit.