Electric storm overloading the circuits, house fire, thief, hard drive failure ; all reasons that could cause data loss.
How can I protect myself? A back-up.
What is a back-up? A back-up is a way that you have copied important information onto another device (external hard drive, USB key, flash drive, DVD, etc...) so that if your main source, usually your computer's hard drive, fails you do not lose everything.
What is the best kind of back-up?
There are different types of back-ups : a full copy of the hard drive itself or simply copying important files. The first option is more lenghty and costly but if something was to fail, you would have your computer exactly like it was before, data wise. A program of your choice will simply make an exact copy of your hard drive to another one. The second option is easier and faster, and probably cheaper since you can get away with a device with less space. You connect the device to the compute and you manually copy the files you want to keep (Pictures folder, Documents folder, etc...).
There are softwares out there to schedule backups on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Making a weekly backup of important files is probably good enough for the average person. Windows has a little software to backup information found in Control Panel. Apple uses something called Time Machine which is great. Look around, there are many options.
Sometimes a simple external hard drive, used once a week to back-up your information is more than enough. You could go a little more extreme and store an external hard drive in a safety deposit box at the bank and update it once a month. Some companies like Google offer also online storage for back-ups. Personnally I prefer when I'm the only one that can access my own data.
In the market right now the storage medium with the lowest cost per storage space is the hard drive. You can purchase an external hard drive, already assembled, with plenty of space for as low as $50. If you are a little more adventurous, you can purchase a hard drive and an enclosure seperatly and assemble them yourself to save even more money. The good part about doing it yourself is you can use as many hard drives as you want, the type you want and the size you want to back-up your data.
Here is a little video to show how easy it is to back-up your data. You will see an enclosure assembled by me and a dock type hard drive enclosure where hard drives can be easily swapped to back-up different things.
Remember, you can never have too many back-ups. As simple as all your important documents copied to a USB key stored in your sock drawer to something a little more robust like a hard drive, back-ups are essential. Retrieving data from a damaged device can cost into the thousands of dollars. Like any other devices, hard drives will sometimes fail for no reason. Although it is rare considering the amount of hard drives on the market, you don't want to be the one to lose all your data become you didn't take the right precautions. Better safe than sorry.
Now, if you don't have any back-ups, now would be a good time to think about getting some or make sure they are up to date.
Cover yourself, make back-ups!