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Ransomware Attacks Demonstrate Importance of Reliable Tape Backups

The recent ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline led to significant downtime for crucial American fuel infrastructure — and a $4.4 million payment to the bad actors behind the attack. Unfortunately, the event was not isolated, and ransomware is expected to pose a significant threat in 2021.

In a survey conducted by cybersecurity firm Sophos, 37 percent of IT decision makers said that their organizations were hit by ransomware in the last year. The average bill for ransomware response was around $1.85 million, including costs associated with downtime, training, and network rectification. Many victims were forced to pay the ransoms, which averaged over $100,000 for mid-sized businesses.

Generally, ransomware works by encrypting the victim’s files, then presenting a message demanding payment for the decryption key. Corporate ransomware attacks are becoming more common, as corporations are more likely to pay the hefty sums demanded by cybercriminals. Some attackers also attempt to access data to extort the end user, and as ransomware has become more profitable, criminals have used more sophisticated techniques to compromise their targets.

Vigilant security practices can decrease the risk of infection, but given the large number of vectors used by modern ransomware, perfect protection isn’t feasible. For many companies, the best solution is data backup — and data cartridges are an excellent resource for building a sound strategy.

How Data Tapes Protect Against Ransomware and Other Threats

Cloud storage has gained popularity over the last decade, but the recent ransomware attacks show some of the vulnerabilities of internet-based technologies. Even with consistent backups, cloud systems are susceptible to malware. This is mostly unavoidable; any system connected to the internet can be attacked, and many ransomware variants are written to target on-network backups when encrypting endpoint data.

To provide adequate protection from malicious attackers, a data backup method must be able to be disconnected from its parent network. Backup professionals refer to this feature as an “air gap.” Of course, data tapes are disconnected from the network after they’re written, and they can be duplicated easily to maintain several copies of an important backup.

Data tape cartridges have a much lower cost-per-gigabyte than hard drives or other forms of magnetic storage. Modern LTO-8 tapes can hold upwards of 30 terabytes, and their small physical footprint allows for easy storage. They’re durable, reliable, and scalable — and modern technologies allow for fast read/write speeds with extremely low bit error rates. Tape cartridges use fewer resources than other backup methods, and when properly employed, they can safeguard important systems and ensure a low time-to-recovery.

Ransomware Considerations: Forming a Better Data Backup Strategy

Of course, no form of data storage is completely immune to ransomware. Cybercriminals understand that many enterprise-level businesses take steps to safeguard their data, and they’re certainly aware of air-gapping. To ensure an adequate response to ransomware infection, businesses should keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep archives of important backups. Ransomware can exist on a computer network for months before causing damage. That’s by design — cybercriminals want to ensure that backups are no longer useful or relevant.

Enterprises should keep “golden copies" of mission-critical systems, ensuring that those systems can be restored during an attack. Even if the data is outdated, restoring the system to a certain point in time may be preferable to paying a ransom.

  • Keep at least three copies of mission-critical data. Redundant backups provide resiliency in a disaster. Enterprises should maintain three copies of important backups at the absolute minimum, and at least one of those copies should be stored offsite.

  • Check backups regularly. Verification is crucial — if a backup has not been verified, assume it is not usable. Modern data cartridges are designed for 15 to 30 years of archival storage, but they should be checked periodically.

While excellent network security is essential for preventing cybercrime, a robust backup strategy is an enterprise’s last line of defense. Total Data Migration can provide the expertise your organization needs to execute that strategy.

From cartridge migration to restoration, our team is ready to help. Contact us with questions or to schedule a consultation.