Tech & Work

Roll back time with Wild File's GoBack

Network administrators can add a new tool to their virus-fighting efforts: Roll back software. John McCormick introduces his favorite roll back product and explains how rolling backups can work in tandem with traditional protective measures.

Let's face it. Viruses are here to stay, and network administrators must maintain an effective virus protection plan. These protective measures should include user training, regular backups, and of course, antivirus software.

Products from Norton, McAfee, F-Prot, and Dr. Solomon's are currently protecting thousands of PCs around the world. However, using antivirus software does have a few drawbacks. That's why I recommend a "roll back" software package like Wild File's GoBack. (You’ll see the name Adaptec on the Web site, as it just bought the software). GoBack works with Windows 95/98 and goes beyond normal antivirus software—and it does so at a very affordable price.

Why use a roll back package?
Using quality antivirus software with regular updates is a critical part of a good security plan, but in today's world it isn't enough. Even training users not to open unexpected attachments will never be 100 percent effective.

However, roll back software, a relatively new and unknown tool, can overcome the shortfalls of traditional virus protection. Roll back software will not only protect against virtually every worm and virus, but even against troublesome software installations, data losses due to system crashes, and accidental file erasure and overwriting. There are several roll back products on the market, but I recommend Wild File's GoBack.

How does GoBack work?
Roll back software works like a virtual time machine, allowing users to restore individual files or entire hard drives to an earlier condition. With the standard installation, GoBack reserves 10 percent of your hard drive's capacity to cache all hard drive activity. Each time a file is saved or deleted, GoBack records these changes and allows you to undo them.

I have found that the 10 percent limit is a good setting and can hold several days, if not weeks, of backups. You can easily view how far back files are available and make adjustments. I suggest you set the reserved file space on each computer so that the file history slightly overlaps your regular backup schedule. If you back up once a week to another medium such as tape or CD-R, adjust your GoBack cache size so you have about eight to 10 days of instant backup.

Using GoBack
Imagine one of your users has just accidentally overwritten a long legal document with unwanted changes. Discovering just exactly what changes were made and then re-creating the document could take hours. Hopefully, this document was stored on one of your file servers and can be recovered from your nightly backup. You do make nightly backups, don't you? But what if it's stored on the user's hard drive?

With GoBack, simply click on the recover file button, and you can restore the overwritten file to any previous version saved within the past several days, even if it was saved under the same filename. GoBack assigns a unique code to every file you save. Just select any earlier version, and you’re back in business.

GoBack also allows you to revert your entire hard drive, even multiple drives, to an earlier point in time. This option is perfect if you encounter a virus, install a bad piece of software, or delete a large amount of data. It also works well if you’re maintaining a public-access computer that you reset each day.

GoBack Professional or Basic?
I use GoBack Professional on my own systems because of its extra administration tools, but the average office user only needs GoBack Basic. The Professional version is also the best choice for most networked installations because you can use it to administer workstations remotely. The auto-revert option in GoBack Professional is perfect for public-access computers. At user-defined intervals it can automatically delete all new files and changes made to the computer. This completely resets the workstation to a base condition for the next user.

GoBack's pros and cons
Although GoBack is an effective file-recovery tool, it does have limitations. GoBack should be used only in conjunction with a regular backup program (tape, CD-ROM, optical, and so on). GoBack can also only store as much information as the cache will hold. Eventually it will delete old files to make room for newer versions. In addition, traditional backups protect against catastrophic hard drive failure. GoBack is useless if your drive won't work. And GoBack only works with Windows 95/98, leaving NT users out of luck.

On the plus side, GoBack will work if Windows crashes. You can revert to an earlier hard drive configuration without ever booting Windows. But probably the best part of GoBack is never again spending hours troubleshooting a problem. Even a novice computer user can learn to recover individual files within a few minutes, and it takes only seconds to learn how to revert an entire hard drive. And restoring old files isn't a blind operation; you don't have to keep a stopwatch by your computer so you know exactly when the last good copy of a file was saved. You can view the contents of backup files and folders before choosing to restore them.

The bottom line
Wild File's GoBack, with its roll back ability, is a good addition to your overall virus protection and file recovery strategies. But keep in mind that it's only a supplement. You shouldn’t use it to replace traditional antivirus software or normal network backups. With the street price for a single copy around $70, GoBack is a real bargain considering how often it will save time having to re-create accidentally lost data.

John McCormick is a security consultant and technical writer (five books and 14,000-plus articles and columns) who has been working with computers for more than 35 years.

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