KjCRCP, backing up and saving your precious information in a safe place is very smart. Thanks for reaching out to us here. The best course of action would be for you to contact Apple directly with regard to this. You can reach them by dialing (800)-692-7753. Why Apple you might ask? Apple is very proprietary on what can be compatible with their products and services. You would have to hook your device up to iTunes to transfer content from your iPhone to your computer. To move those files from your computer to an external hard drive is where you have to contact Apple. We don't know where iTunes moves those files to on your computer to where we can grab them and push them to an external hard drive. I hope this helped. Here is a helpful link with more ways to contact Apple. http://apple.co/2rsiuPW .
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You can back up the device on your computer using iTunes but the back up is very hidden on the computer. Also, you can't open it and read anything. It is just a bunch of random symbols.
Is there anything specific that you are trying to back up? You are able to extract pictures and video. You can also sign in to icloud.com with your Apple ID and view your contacts and pictures. If you are backing it up so that you have a restore point your best option is to plug it in to the computer and use iTunes or even better is to set up the iCloud back up which runs automatically when you plug in and are connected to WiFi.