It's a scary possibility, and it happens more often than you might think.
But Brett Larson, technology editor of the New York CBS station WCBS-TV, says there are relatively easy ways to back up that data, so you don't lose it in the event of a hard drive disaster.
First, you can burn your files onto disks. Larson says this is the least expensive way to back up data. Disk-burning software sells for $50-$150. Burn all your files onto CDs or DVDs. Load this software onto your computer, and you can program it to automatically back up your files, but you have to have a blank CD or DVD in your drive. This is good for people who don't have a ton of stuff on their drive because lots of data means buying lots of disks. Back up your data as often as possible. Larson says he does it every day. One example of disk-burning software is EMC Retrospect. Learn about it at Dantz.com.
Another possibility is backup hard drives, which go for $100-$300, depending on how much space you need. All you do is plug one of these into your computer and download its software, then, when you're ready to back up, just push a button, and everything will be backed up. You can set it to back up all your files at the same time every day. These could, like any hard drive, conceivably crash as well, but Larson says the likelihood that your computer's drive and the backup drive will both crash at the same time is slim. If one drive crashes, you should turn your computer off and get technical assistance. Examples of backup hard drive products are Store-It All, which can be found at Pexagontech.com, and My Book, which can be found at WesternDigital.com.
The next option is Web sites that back up your data for you, usually for $10 - $20 a month. You sign up online and, for a monthly fee, these sites will send you software that automatically backs up your data to multiple locations that the sites maintain. This is, Larson says, the most reliable way to back up your files, because these sites store your files in several places, so you're never going to lose them in a crash. Another advantage: Anyone who has your password can look at your files, making it easy to share photos or home videos with family and friends. One backup Web site is Xdrive.com.
If you just want to back up your photos, there are sites that will let you do it for free. For instance, Kodak Gallery will let you store all your photos on that site for free, as long as you buy prints from them once a year.
Yet another backup possibility: data recovery services, such as WeRecoverData.com.