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Back Up and Restore - Microsoft Windows

How to back up and restore files on your Microsoft Windows device using OneDrive or an external hard drive.

Introduction

This step-by-step guide shows you how to back up and restore files on your Microsoft Windows device.

This guide includes screenshots of Windows 10. Within Windows 10, you can back up your files to the cloud with a OneDrive subscription, or to a hard drive through the Windows Settings menu.

Backups

Our devices are home to all of our important data. But if that device is compromised, damaged, lost or stolen, your data may be lost. Whether it’s hardware failure, theft, natural disaster or your device being infected with a virus, recovering data can be expensive or impossible.

That’s why it’s so important to regularly back up data to the cloud or an external storage device, like a hard drive.

A backup is a digital copy of your most important information.

When backing up data, copies of your files (e.g. photos, documents, videos, etc.) are saved to an external storage device or to an online server like the cloud.

Having a backup means you can restore your files if something goes wrong. It is a precautionary measure so that your data is accessible in case something happens to your computer. We recommend backing up your files regularly.

Tip: Check your backups regularly so that you are familiar with the recovery process, and ensure your backups are working properly.

Back up your files with OneDrive

OneDrive is a Microsoft product that provides cloud storage for your photos and files. You can save your photos and files to OneDrive and access them from any device, anywhere.

With a Microsoft 365 subscription, you can use OneDrive to back up your files to the cloud (Microsoft’s servers). The Microsoft 365 version of OneDrive can also detect if malicious attacks like ransomware are affecting your files. If your files are ever deleted, corrupted, or affected by ransomware, you will also be able to restore them back to their original state, before they were compromised.

OneDrive is also available as a standalone paid subscription or in a free version, but these two versions are unlikely to help you in a cyber security incident.

These versions of OneDrive will still copy files from your device to your cloud storage, but are missing advanced backup and recovery features that would help you recover those files if they were corrupted or encrypted by malware.

The only version of OneDrive that offers recovery from ransomware, is included in the paid Microsoft 365 subscription.

This guide will show you how to set up OneDrive on Windows 10, but the steps are similar for Windows 11.

Step 1

Open OneDrive on your machine. For Windows 10, open the Start Menu and search OneDrive. Click to open the app.

If OneDrive does not appear in your Start Menu, you can download it from Microsoft’s website.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

We recommend turning on multi-factor authentication for your Microsoft account to help protect your files being accessed by cybercriminals.

Step 2

Enter the email address for your Microsoft account and click Sign in. Follow the prompts to sign in, including multi-factor authentication if you have this enabled.

If you don’t have a Microsoft account, you can make one by clicking Create account instead.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 3

Select a location for your OneDrive folder on your device. This is where you can access your OneDrive files that have been synced with the cloud. Select Next.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 4

Read through the following prompts and select Next.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps
Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps
Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 5

Choose if you would like to get the mobile app, or select Later.

You can get the OneDrive app at any stage by going to the App Store or Google Play Store, downloading OneDrive and signing in to your Microsoft account.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 6

Select Open my OneDrive folder.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 7

Select OneDrive in File Explorer to see your files. (Note: They are not yet backed up).

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 8

Select the OneDrive icon in the taskbar, in the bottom-right of your screen. If you can’t find it, look for the cloud icon, or try clicking the ^ button to show more icons if it does not appear. After clicking on the OneDrive icon, go to Help & Settings and select Settings.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 9

Select Back up.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 10

Go to Manage back up.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 11

Select the folders you would like to back up and Start back up.

It is important to note that you can only back up files in these three folders. If you have files in your Downloads, Music, or Videos folders, or files elsewhere on your device, these will not be backed up to OneDrive. If you have important files in other locations (for example photos or documents in a different location) you should consider an additional backup method to protect those files as well.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 12

Select View sync progress.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 13

Once your files are finished uploading you will see OneDrive is up to date. Your files are now backed up and can be accessed from any device.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Restore files from OneDrive

These steps show you how to restore your entire OneDrive folder to an earlier point in time. This is useful if your files have been affected by ransomware or malware, but it is only possible with a paid Microsoft 365 subscription.

Ensure your device has been cleared of malware or ransomware before restoring or your files could be reinfected.

If you need to recover a single file that’s been deleted, or restore an earlier version of a file, please visit Microsoft’s website for advice.

Step 1

Open a web browser and go to office.com.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 2

Select Sign In.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 3

Enter the email address for your Microsoft account and select Next. Follow the prompts to sign in, including multi-factor authentication if you have this enabled.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps
Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 4

Select the OneDrive symbol on the left of the window. It will look like a blue cloud.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 5

Go to the Settings cog in the top right corner of the window and select Options.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 6

Select Restore your OneDrive.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 7

Select Verify your identity and follow the prompts.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 8

Select a date for the restore point.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 9

Select Restore.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 10

Confirm the date and time and select Restore.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 11

View the progress of your recovery. Once your recovery is finished select Return to your OneDrive.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 12

You will now be able to see and access files from the restore point you selected.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Back up your files to a hard drive

This guide will show you how to back up and restore your files using tools available within Windows 10. If you require more than a simple file backup or are using another version of Windows 11, there may be other backup methods or third party programs that better suit your needs.

Step 1

Plug in an external hard drive or USB and open the Start menu.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 2

Type backup settings and select Backup Settings.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 3

Select Add a drive.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 4

Choose your backup drive.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 5

To create a once-off backup, we follow similar steps as turning on automatic backups. Check backups are turned on and select More options.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 6

Select what folders you need to include and what folders to exclude from your backup. The default folders backed up are shown below.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 7

To set up automatic backups, select how frequently to back up your files and how long to keep them. Then select Back up now to start your first backup.

If this is a once-off backup, you can ignore how frequently to back up your files. Instead, select how long to keep your backup files for and then click Back up now.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Note: “Keep my backups” will let you choose how long old backups are kept on your hard drive. The longer you keep backups for, the further back in time you’ll be able to restore to.

Keeping backups for a longer time will take up more space on your hard drive, but once it is full Windows will automatically replace the oldest backup with a new one.

Step 8

You will then see the progress of your backups, which might take some time.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 9

Once your backups are finished you will see the date and time of the last backup.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

If you were making a once-off backup, it is recommended you remove your hard drive once the backup is complete, so that if your computer is infected by malware it does not spread to your backup files. To make another backup in the future, repeat Steps 1 to 9.

If you set up automatic backups, you should consider removing your hard drive once the backup is complete, then making a second back up to an additional hard drive. It is important to always have a recent backup disconnected from your device, so it remains secure even if your device becomes infected by malware. One way to do this is to have multiple hard drives in rotation and regularly swap them over.

Store your disconnected hard drive(s) in a secure location.

Restore your files from a hard drive

If you need to wipe your device and restore files after a cyber-security incident, look for guidance on Microsoft’s official website or contact a professional. Do not plug your backup drive into an infected PC.

Step 1

Select Start.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 2

Type backup settings and select Backup Settings. Make sure your backup hard drive is plugged in.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 3

Select More Options.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 4

Scroll down to the bottom and select Restore files from a current backup.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 5

Select the date you want to restore from and select the green restore button.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 6

Select Replace the files in the destination. This will replace your old infected files with the restored files from you selected backup.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 7

You will then see the progress of your restore. This might take some time.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps

Step 8

When complete, File Explorer will open and show you your restored files. Safely remove the hard drive from your device.

Back up and restore Microsoft Windows steps
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