Information Security
Security Offerings
Data Backups

Scheduling regular backups can help you keep your important data intact and in a remote location. You still have access to and can recover from your backup in the event of hardware failure, virus attacks, theft, power failure, or natural disaster.


Several computers accessed by McCormick faculty and staff use Retrospect as the backup solution. All changed files are backed up on a weekly basis. A minimum of 12 continuous weeks of backups are immediately accessible at all times. After 12 weeks, a full backup is generated and preserved for 48 weeks in the event a file needs to be restored within the last quarter or year.

As needed, these computers will be transitioned to the CrashPlanPro software.

Time Machine

Mac users may choose to back up their data using Time Machine, which is an external storage device. McCormick IT recommends an additional backup solution like CrashPlan Pro to provide redundancy so that the local backup is not stored in the same physical location as the computer. Storing data locally is susceptible to many of the same causes of data loss as the original data.

CrashPlan Pro

Northwestern provides CrashPlan Pro, a free, secure cloud-based backup solution for continuous data protection and restoration capabilities of desktop and laptop machines running supported Windows, Mac OS, and Linux/Solaris operating systems. CrashPlan is intended for the backup of University and research data on computers with less than 2tb of data.

Files are encrypted as they are being backed up. Data is encrypted by the CrashPlan client, then transmitted and stored in the encrypted state. Each user account has its own encryption key, which is stored on the server and is automatically used by any system backed up under the user’s account. Administrators can automatically and transparently access the key to allow them to restore / decrypt the backup. The CrashPlan service was designed to ensure secure data handling and the encryption cannot be disabled.

Once an account has been provisioned for you, CrashPlan takes only several minutes to install.  The duration of the initial backup varies, depending on the size of the files and folders in scope in your profile. After the initial backup, CrashPlan constantly monitors your files. Every 15 minutes, CrashPlan backs up brand new files and changes to current files. Changes are backed up while you work, creating a new version of your document. Backing up unique information saves bandwidth and storage and makes restoring faster. Most users do not even notice when their data is being backed up, but you may experience a drain on your laptop’s battery if you are importing large amounts of transitory data that you do not intent to keep.

How to Verify that Your Computer is Backing Up

  1. Open the CrashPlan Pro application installed on your computer.
  2. Log in with your NetID and password.
  3. On the Backup tab, make sure that the Last Backup date is recent. 
  4. If your computer has not backed up in several days, you should see when the Next Backup is scheduled. If the next scheduled backup does not run, contact your local IT support.

Managing Your Backup

The default backup settings are pre-configured to include all user folders within your user profile (Desktop, Documents, etc). CrashPlan Pro prioritizes files for backup so that your newest and most recently modified files are backed up first. Your backup settings can be altered from the Settings module of the CrashPlan Pro client application, as explained below.

Select Files and Folders to Backup

Modify your backup set by checking and unchecking directories and files. To do this:

  1. Select the Change Selection button from the Backup tab in the Settings module.
  2. From the Change File Selection window, check or uncheck files or folders to include or exclude them in your backup.
  3. Click Save.

Note: By default, hidden files are not displayed in the Change File Selection window. Select Show hidden files to view hidden files and include / exclude hidden files in your backup set.

Backing Up Hidden Files

There are applications that store data files in hidden folders within your user profile. You will need to backup those hidden folders individually, as they may contain useful data such as Outlook files and Firefox browser bookmarks. Refer to the table below for Outlook and Firefox data file locations.

Outlook Files


Firefox Favorites


Managing Backup Exclusions

Backup exclusions are file types that are to be excluded from the backup set. To add or remove backup exclusions:

  1. Select Settings tab > Configure button > file type to exclude > use +/- buttons to add or remove exclusions.
  2. Select OK to complete the changes then select Save.

Managing Retention and Versioning Settings

Backup versions are retained indefinitely. However, the quantity of versions retained is based upon the age of the backup.

  1. To review settings, select Backup > Configure
  2. Change the frequency and version settings by sliding the meter to the desired setting then click OK.

Restoring Backed Up Files

You can restore file versions through the Web or by using the CrashPlan Pro application on your computer.

Restoring Files from the Web

This should be only used when you need to restore a few individual files. The Web restore has a 250 MB limit per restore. To restore files from the web:

  1. Go to
  2. Enter your NetID and password to log in.
  3. Click Devices > select your computer > click Restore button (circular arrow button).
  4. Select the files or folders you want to restore and click Restore. This will create a downloadable zip folder with the desired files and will prompt you to save it.

Restoring Files Using CrashPlan Pro on Your Computer

To restore files from your computer:

  1. Open CrashPlan Pro and log in using your NetID and password.
  2. Click Restore.
  3. Select the computer that holds the files you want to restore.
  4. From the Restore tab, select the files and folders that you want to restore.
  5. Click on the appropriate restore settings, located near the bottom of the window, and enter the desired values:
    • Most Recent: Specify the version of the file you want to restore
    • Desktop: Specify the location on your computer where you want the file restored
    • Rename: Specify the name of the file you want to restore
  6. Click Restore and wait for the process to complete.

Note: There is no limit to the number of files you can restore using the CrashPlan Pro application.

Alternative Solutions

In some cases, CrashPlan may not be an optimal data backup solution. If you have high bandwidth, high capacity needs or a specialized configuration that is not on the Northwestern network, contact your local IT support for consultation on backup alternatives.

For more information on University options, see File Sharing and Data Storage.