While online backup services are becoming increasingly popular, business users still have nagging doubts about them. Are online backups really secure? Is data sent over the Internet truly safe?

The answer, for the most part, is yes. It is true that determined computer criminals can hack their way into many online databases. But there are a variety of reasons why a hacker’s attack is unlikely to jeopardize your online backup data, and even better reasons why your backup isn’t going to be intercepted en route.

Companies that lose data may shut down

First, some perspective. More than one-third of all PC users have lost all of their files because of events beyond their control, according to Verio, of Englewood, Colo., which provides online backup services under the auspices of Iron Mountain, a Boston-based technology company. Half of Internet users have lost computer files at some point, and two-thirds of them never recover their data. Perhaps most notably, 60 percent of companies that lose their data will shut down within six months of the disaster, according to Verio.

“With new compliance issues, data growth, and recent security breaches, the need for companies to back up their data against file corruption and data loss has increased dramatically,” says Albert Metais, CEO of Steelgate Technologies, of Boston, which provides online backup.  “Typically, if a company loses their data for more than 10 days, they end up filing for bankruptcy. New options to safeguard information are long-term and off-site through automatic online backup..”

Even though backups can be crucial to long-term business success, they may not be created at all if the process is too complicated or time-consuming. That’s where online backup services can play an important role.

Why online backup is secure

Online backups usually work through an application installed onto each PC in the business network. While some do their job virtually in real-time -- saving backups as files change throughout the day -- most can be set to back up data automatically at specific intervals throughout the day or week.

According to online backup service provider Carbonite, of Boston, data is encrypted before ever being sent onto the Internet. Anyone who does manage to tap into the data stream while it’s en route would be unable to decipher the bits without a copy of the user’s decryption key, which is kept separately from the encrypted data. In addition, encrypted data is scrambled once again as it goes out by using the same kind of secure connection that online merchants use for moving credit card information.

Good options for small businesses

“I think online backup services are terrific, particularly for a small- to medium-sized business,” says Steve Lewis, co-founder and CEO of application continuity device maker Teneros, of Mountain View, Calif. “You’re getting basically an Inc. 500-quality infrastructure managed by really good people and you’re paying somewhere around $15 per month for it.”

What about security concerns? Lewis calls them “a red herring.”

“The real question is: Is your data that valuable? When your data and my data are sitting in an archive with 50,000 terabytes of other people’s data, is yours really going to be the one that somebody teases out?” he says. “It’s highly unlikely.”