21st-Century Backups

Think your documents are safe, now that they're stored in the Internet cloud? Think again

3 min read

So you’ve never gotten into the habit of making regular backups? Fortunately, nowadays copies of your e-mails probably rest safely with the likes of Yahoo, your photos with Flickr, your word-processor documents with Google, your music with iTunes, and so on. Whew! These applications reside on massive server farms, surely making your data as secure as they’d be with one of those fancy corporate disaster-recovery services.

But no. Data in the cloud are still vulnerable—in fact, your precious documents are no safer there than they ever were on the noisy, ancient 10-megabyte hard drive of your first PC.

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
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Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush
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Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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