Immutable Backup: The Best Ransomware Deterrent to Your Backups (Well Almost)

A ransomware attack takes place every 11 seconds. That means by the time you’re done reading this article, ransomware will have been deployed many times over, crippling mission-critical systems and causing unplanned downtime for its unsuspecting victims.

Backups ensure IT professionals have a last line of defense to fall back on when they suffer a ransomware attack. However, simply making copies of your data does not make you invincible against cyberattacks. Advanced ransomware attacks have managed to infiltrate backups as well, leaving organizations with very little chance of recovery and guaranteeing hackers a lucrative payday.

The rampant presence of sophisticated ransomware has led IT professionals to implement immutable backups as part of their Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) strategy.

What Is Immutable Backup?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines immutable as “not capable of or susceptible to change.” The rationale behind immutable backup is that it protects data by making it fixed and unchangeable.

Immutable backups maintain an optimum number of recovery points and prevent any source from tampering with existing data storage blocks. The result is an archive of immutable backups that guarantee recovery by finding and recovering the last clean backup you have on record. It’s how immutable backups protect data from accidental and intentional deletion, as well as ransomware attacks.

However, immutability goes beyond just being a simple add-on for a backup vendor. The concept of immutability should be baked into the backup architecture to remove security vulnerabilities that can potentially impact backup files.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that immutable backups are a favorite of many organizations like:

  • Businesses with strict compliance codes – Immutable backups hold on to critical data safely for a long time while allowing organizations to set a date for permanently removing it.

  • Law enforcement agencies – Immutable backups allow them to safely bank large volumes of video and audio surveillance data to guarantee credibility.

  • Healthcare organizations – Immutable backups help in storing critical medical, pharmaceutical and scientific data.

Benefits of Immutable Backup

The immediate benefit of immutable backup is the untouched version of the primary data that is always recoverable and safe from any kind of cyberthreat. However, there are a few more benefits organizations enjoy if they choose the route of immutability.

Backup integrity

Backups make organizations feel safe. This feeling comes from the assumption that the data backed up is not corrupt and is recoverable. Immutable backups improve the chances of turning that assumption into reality by ensuring the backup copy is valid and can be restored on demand.

360-degree compliance

Immutable backup helps organizations adhere to regulatory data compliance requirements by retaining accurate copies of data. It also includes complying with user requests such as demanding a copy of all the data an organization has collected on them.

No more unauthorized changes

The backup environment is accessed by many users with varying levels of permission. They may modify or delete backup data either accidentally or maliciously, leading to a failed recovery. Immutability keeps backup data secure from unauthorized changes by default since data cannot be altered irrespective of the permission levels.

What Is Air-Gapping?

Air-gapping is a common way to achieve immutability. An air-gap backup and recovery strategy includes a copy of your organization’s data (backups) stored offline — through replication to separate media — disconnected and removed from the network.

The 3-2-1 backup rule is a perfect example of air-gapping. The rule suggests three (3) copies of your data on two (2) different storage media, with one (1) copy located off-site (immutable copy). It ensures recovery during any disruption, whether technical failure, natural disaster or ransomware.

To sum it up, air-gapping backups deliver better protection by:

  • Stopping the spread of malware to backups by removing them from the network

  • Making it more cumbersome for hackers to get to the air-gapped (immutable) backup

  • Improving the probability of recovery from any business disruption

But there’s a catch…

Air-gapping is not a 100% guarantee against ransomware and other cyberattacks. The timing of the replication plays a crucial role in the success or failure of air-gapped backup and recovery strategy.

For instance, let’s say, as part of your BCDR protocols, files are backed up weekly. But one of the files has been corrupted with malware. If this corruption goes unnoticed before the next weekly backup cycle, the malware-infected file replicates, giving ransomware access to the backup environment.

Achieve immutability with Unitrends

The limitations of air gapping are not new to seasoned IT professionals. However, many organizations still work with old, traditional backup architectures because they are not well-versed in a modern backup architecture like Unitrends.

To achieve true immutability, Unitrends provides a dedicated cloud service, Unitrends Forever Cloud, for secure, off-site retention of your data stored in an immutable cloud architecture. While you can access the data to read and import it back to your local appliance, neither the appliance nor any other source can modify, change or delete data written to the cloud target. Implementing an immutable cloud for storing backup copies overcomes the risks associated with local immutability.

Beyond securing backup copies in the cloud, you can perform Recovery Assurance to validate backups prior to replication. This fully automated, application-level recovery testing executes DR runbook tests to certify application performance and benchmark the recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) for every backup. Recover with confidence knowing that your backups are certified as recovery-ready.

Immutable backup is just one part of preventing ransomware. Download our eBook, Ransomware: What IT Pros Need to Know, for further considerations to combat ransomware and cyberattacks effectively.


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