Immutable Backup

Immutable Backup: The process of creating unchangeable backups to safeguard data against modifications and deletions.

Immutable Backup ensures data remains unaltered post-creation, offering a strong line of defense against ransomware attacks and unauthorized data modifications.

Immutable Backup a TL;DR

Immutable Backup is an important part of data protection and disaster recovery, particularly crucial for users of widely adopted cloud services like Microsoft 365. Microsoft 365 provides extensive productivity tools used by businesses globally. However, the underlying assumption that cloud services, including Microsoft 365, inherently provide comprehensive data protection can be misleading and dangerous. It leads to a gap in understanding the real risks and the necessary measures needed for robust data security.

Immutable backup appears as a critical strategy in this context.

What is Immutable Backup?

An immutable backup is a copy of data that cannot be changed, deleted, or overwritten after it has been created. This makes immutable backups a powerful tool for data protection, especially in the face of ransomware attacks.

Immutable backups can also be used to protect against accidental data deletion or corruption. If a user accidentally deletes a file, the data can still be recovered from the immutable backup. Similarly, if a file becomes corrupted, the backup can be used to restore the file to its original state.

Why is Immutable Backup Important?

Immutable backup storage is crucial for protecting your data from malicious factors, such as ransomware attacks. By making backups immutable, you prevent any modifications or deletions for a specific period of time, ensuring that your data remains intact and recoverable. This is particularly important for cloud backup solutions, as they are more susceptible to cyber threats.

There are several reasons why immutable backup storage is essential:

  • Protection against ransomware attacks: Immutable storage can help protect your data from loss due to attacks, malware activity, or other injurious actions performed by third-party applications.
  • Cost efficiency: While the time period for immutability does not need to map to your backup retention schedule, it can be beneficial to consider immutability for at least the expected period between a ransomware attack starting and detection of ransomware demand contact.
  • Data Integrity: Ensures that backup data stays unchanged, providing reliability and trust in the restoration process.
  • Increased security: Immutable storage provides an additional layer of security for your data, making it more resilient to unauthorized modifications or deletions.
  • Compliance and Policy Management: Immutability periods should align with organizational policies and compliance requirements.

To implement immutable backup storage, consider using cloud object storage systems that provide object lock and object retention, such as AWS S3. Read more on how you can protect your backups from ransomware attacks.

The Role of Immutable Backup in Ransomware Protection

Immutable data is essential in the fight against ransomware due to its ability to prevent data from being altered or deleted for a specified period. This approach ensures that even if the primary data is compromised or encrypted due to a ransomware attack, the unaltered backups, or immutable data, can be readily restored, effectively thwarting data loss and ransom demands

Immutable backup solutions provide a read-only record of data that cannot be changed or deleted within a set retention period. This immutability is the cornerstone in defending against ransomware, as encrypted or altered data can be readily replaced with the untouched, original version. This concept effectively turns the tables on cybercriminals—no matter how they may try to manipulate the data, an immutable backup keeps an untouchable copy.

However, it's important to note that while immutable backups are a great way to protect against ransomware, they are not a perfect solution on their own. A comprehensive ransomware prevention and recovery strategy should go beyond immutability and include a holistic cyber resiliency approach, strong access and credential management, and other preventive measures.

Immutable Backup in the Context of Microsoft 365

Immutable backups are particularly relevant for Microsoft 365 services to protect data from malicious actors, ransomware attacks, and other threats. Immutable backups ensure that the backed-up data stays intact and available for recovery, even if the production data is compromised. For example, Azure offers an Immutable vault feature that blocks specific operations on the backup data, preventing loss due to malicious activities. Third party backup vendors also provide immutability support, allowing users to prohibit the deletion of backup copies from object storage, thus protecting the data from loss because of attacks or malware activity.

Alcion for instance takes proactive measures by automatically starting backups upon ransomware detection and ensuring data immutability. In addition, Alcion implements an added two-week retention of backups post-deletion for further security.

This level of protection is essential for safeguarding Microsoft 365 data, as the responsibility for the data stored in the cloud lies with the organization, making regular backups and immutability crucial for data protection.

Contrasting Traditional (Mutable) vs Immutable storage in the Context of Microsoft 365 backup

To understand the contrast of traditional (mutable) storage with immutable storage in the context of Microsoft 365 backup, first we need to understand the key differences in how each storage type handles data, especially in terms of security and recovery capabilities:

Traditional (Mutable) Storage

  • Flexibility: Traditional storage allows for modifications, deletions, and overwrites. This flexibility is useful for routine data management but can be a vulnerability in the face of cyber threats.
  • Vulnerability to Threats: Because files can be altered or deleted, traditional storage systems are susceptible to ransomware attacks. If compromised, an attacker can encrypt or delete backups, making recovery difficult.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Generally, traditional storage solutions are more cost-effective compared to their immutable counterparts. This affordability makes them a practical choice for organizations with limited budgets.
  • Security Risks: One challenge is the risk of data manipulation. In a ransomware attack, backups stored in mutable systems can be targeted, leaving organizations without a reliable recovery option.
  • Operational Complexity: Ensuring the security of mutable backups often requires additional layers of protection, such as sophisticated access controls and continuous monitoring, adding to operational complexity.

Immutable Storage

  • Non-modifiable Data: Once written, data cannot be altered or deleted for a predetermined period. This is particularly crucial for backup data.
  • Enhanced Security: Once data is written to immutable storage, it cannot be altered or deleted for a pre-defined period. This immutability is crucial for protecting backups from ransomware attacks.
  • Compliance and Integrity: Immutable backups keep data integrity over time, making them suitable for organizations with stringent regulatory compliance requirements.
  • Ransomware Resilience: Immutable storage is highly effective against ransomware since it prevents the alteration or deletion of backup data, ensuring that a clean copy of data is always available for recovery.
  • Simplified Management: Reduces the complexity of managing access controls since the data cannot be altered, simplifying the backup and data protection strategy.

In the Context of Microsoft 365 Backup

For Microsoft 365 backups, the choice between mutable and immutable storage should be guided by the organization's specific needs, budget, and risk tolerance. Immutable storage, with its superior protection against ransomware and data integrity features, is increasingly becoming a favored choice for modern data protection strategies. It is ideal for safeguarding Microsoft 365 data, as it ensures that backup data cannot be tampered with. This is critical given the vast amount of sensitive information processed and stored in Microsoft 365 applications. However, while traditional storage is practical for some operations, it may not be sufficient for organizations seeking robust protection against cyber threats, especially those targeting Microsoft 365 services like email, documents, and other collaboration tools.

Understanding How Immutable Backup Works a TLDR

To understand the workings of immutable backups, it's essential to grasp a few fundamental concepts:

Write-Once, Read-Many (WORM) Storage:

  • Key in preventing data from being overwritten or deleted post-creation.
  • AWS S3 is an exemplary model here, offering robust WORM capabilities that are essential for ensuring the integrity and immutability of backups.

Copy-on-Write (COW) Storage: Employs a replication process where a file copy is created before modification, preserving the original file.

Immutability Mechanisms

To achieve immutability, backup solutions employ various mechanisms, including:

  • Encryption: Secures data with cryptographic keys, making it unreadable to unauthorized parties, thereby maintaining immutability.
  • Write-Once Metadata: Maintains a separate record of data modifications, ensuring original data integrity.
  • Time Stamping: Provides a chronological record of data changes for precise recovery.

Key Features to Look for in a Backup Provider that Supports Immutability

According to the Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2022,  Small (58%), medium (55%) and large businesses (60%) outsource their IT and cybersecurity to an external supplier, citing their reasons as access to greater expertise, resources, and standards for cybersecurity.

These are some of the necessary features you may look for when you are exploring the Microsoft 365 backup ecosystem:

  • Immutable Storage Options: Look for solutions that offer true immutable storage, ensuring that once backups are created, they cannot be altered or deleted for a set period. Cloud object storage systems like AWS S3, known for their object lock and retention features, are ideal.
  • Isolated Infrastructure: The backup infrastructure should be entirely isolated from your other IT systems to prevent cross-system attacks. Cloud Backup-as-a-Service providers often offer this as a standard feature, adding a layer of security and simplicity.
  • Stringent Security Options: Ensure the backup solution allows for strict and scoped access controls, limiting access to backups based on business needs. The provider should also offer strong data integrity features like encryption to prevent data corruption.  
  • Delayed Backup Deletion: Choose providers that allow a delay in backup deletion, giving your IT team a chance to recover "deleted" backups in case of a malicious attack.
  • AI and Machine Learning for Anomaly Detection: AI-driven systems can detect unusual behaviors, such as rapid backup deletions or unusual download patterns, signaling potential threats.
  • Safe Backup Identification and Continuous Verification: The system should enable quick identification of 'safe' backups post-attack, ensuring faster and secure disaster recovery. In addition, continuous backup verification ensures that the backups are always in a restorable state, adapting to changes in data formats and customer data diversity.

Alcion's Immutability Approach

Alcion's approach to immutability in our backup storage is a critical part of our strategy to protect against ransomware attacks. We believe in the necessity of immutable storage, as it ensures that once backups are created, they are not susceptible to modification or deletion for a designated period. This immutability period is carefully chosen based on practical considerations, notably the expected duration between the onset of a ransomware attack and its detection or the issuance of a ransom demand.

To achieve this level of security, we advocate for the use of cloud object storage systems that offer robust object lock and object retention capabilities, with AWS S3 setting the standard in this domain. We acknowledge the complexity involved in correctly utilizing object locks and retention features. However, we take on the responsibility of managing this complexity, ensuring that our end-users are shielded from these intricacies. Our commitment is to provide a secure, user-friendly, and cost-effective backup solution that robustly protects against the ever-evolving threat of ransomware attacks. Immutability along with delayed deletion and even more features complements other robust security measures employed by Alcion to protect backups. These combined efforts help create a comprehensive defense system designed to prevent data loss and facilitate seamless recovery in the event of ransomware attacks or other unexpected events.

96% of businesses were able to survive a ransomware attack due to having a reliable backup and disaster recovery strategy in place according to Forbes.

Alcion offers a straightforward, efficient Microsoft 365 backup solution that aligns with modern IT infrastructures and user needs. Learn more by joining our Discord community and why not check it out for yourself, you can try Alcion for free (no credit card is needed)!

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