Immutable Backup: By Far the Coolest Way to Protect Your Data

Remember Cathy from accounting, who clicked on the “password reset” email from “IT?” Seconds later, ransomware silently infiltrated the system, encrypting critical files and rendering them inaccessible. The ransomware tried to encrypt the backup files, too, but they ran into a 3-2-1-1-0 wall of immutable backups – meaning Cathy’s company can send the ransomware note to the police and happily get on with its business. IT even thanked Cathy for putting them through their paces. (Nice one, Cathy!) Cool, huh?

What are immutable backups?

Imagine your data was written in time-traveling cement and then sealed in a secondary server room – unalterable, unerasable, and unhackable. Immutable backups mean sending your company’s data into a WORMhole, making it almost impossible for anyone to access without authorization except if you’re Tom Cruise – and even then, it’s a pretty impossible mission.

Feel free to play this while you read on.

Why is immutable backup one of the most secure ways to protect data?

Once written, they can’t be modified, deleted, or overwritten, even by ransomware or accidental errors. So, they’re ideal for business-critical data, compliance, and long-term archiving needs.

Can you explain immutable backup work in one word?

WORM. Write-Once-Read-Many.

How do immutable backups work?

Your data is preserved within an immutable on-prem or cloud storage system, protected by the write-once-read-many (WORM) mechanism. This is useful when Cathy from accounting needs to save super-sensitive financial files. Thanks to your SaaS vendor’s dashboard, Cathy sets how long she’d like to store the files during which the files will be tamper-proof.  

What makes immutable backup so cool?

WORM technology has been around since the 70s to ensure long-term storage and authenticity of data. So, tech-wise, think CD, vinyl, tattoo, or the Rosetta Stone. Data is written once on the storage device. Then, never, ever again can it be modified, overwritten, or deleted. And yet, it can be read this many times: ∞. (Geeking out right now!)

  • Compressed format reduces storage requirements and provides faster restores
  • Who’s there? Ransomware! Your data remains unharmed after an attack on your primary system and ready for immediate restoration – just push the restore button
  • Compliance: Government and healthcare organizations must comply with long-term retention requirements by keeping unaltered and authentic backups
  • Human-proof: From insider threats, accidental deletions, and overwrites – immutable backups keep your data safe from human oopsies
  • Air-gap: Your backups live in a secondary system, isolated from your primary system when it’s under a malware or network attack
  • Plus, with third-party SLA guarantees, you don’t have to cross your fingers during recoveries anymore

Features that make it fly:

    • Write Once, Read Many (WORM): Data is written to the backup disk, such as a CD, DVD, or magnetic tape, once, after which it is read-only. WORM shines when archiving sensitive data, such as medical, financial, legal, and regulatory records.
    • It self-heals: Corruption? Errors? No sweat! Immutable backups automatically detect and revert to previous healthy versions (like Time Machine on your Mac).
    • Continuous data protection (CDP): CDP backs up data in seconds or minutes, providing a granular restoration of data changes at any time.
  • Time-based snapshots: Each snapshot includes only the changes since the last backup, with a recent snapshot always at your fingertips.
  • Versioned backups: Need a version of a file from last week? Ding, you have mail. Immutability keeps multiple snapshots frozen in time. These versions provide an audit trail of changes to financial records, source code, software projects, and files that need frequent updating.

What’s on the immutable backup menu for companies?

Look, we’re not gonna gussy up this technology. With immutable backups, everyone from OpenAI to pet food supply companies only has three immutable choices: On-prem. Cloud. Or hybrid. Let’s start with the granddaddy of them all…

On-premise immutable backup solutions

Picture a physically isolated data center under 24/7 CCTV, locked behind cement walls, disconnected from any network, with Write Once, Read Many (WORM) technology. On-premise immutable backup providers utilize dedicated hardware appliances or software integrated into your existing infrastructure. 

On-prem immutable backup keeps your data safer than Mark Zukcerberg’s bunker in Hawaii

  • Hardware storage solutions: NAS (Network-Attached Storage) and SAN (Storage Area Network) systems can be configured for immutability and WORM capabilities
  • Software-defined storage: Software is used to create a storage architecture with immutability features that can be installed on existing hardware infrastructure
  • Write once, read many (WORM) media like LTO tapes and WORM drives provide write-once-read-many capabilities
  • Append-only archives: These systems allow data to be added but never altered or deleted
  • Version control systems: Tools like Git track and maintain different versions of your data, creating snapshots at defined points in time
  • Access management: Access is controlled through authentication and authorization protocols like MFA, RBAC, and the least privilege principle

Cloud-based options

In a cloud-first world, on-prem, immutable cloud-based can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Unlike traditional on-prem setups requiring physical infrastructure and maintenance, the cloud offers a virtual environment that can remain unchanged or immutable, regardless of location or access method. 

What does cloud immutable backup bring to data management and business continuity?

Like multiple versions of Spidey across the multiverse, your data is replicated across the cloud so that if one dies (sorry, Pete), others remain intact, ready to bounce back the minute you push the restore button. But that’s not the end of its superpowers.

Create immutable data vaults in the cloud with customizable protection periods where data cannot be changed

  • Here, there, everywhere: Your data gets replicated across multiple geographically dispersed data centers, and geo-redundancy adds an extra layer of protection against data loss or tampering and regional disasters
  • Object storage with versioning: Services like Amazon S3 or Azure Blob Storage allow data to be uploaded and never directly modified. New versions become separate entities, providing a historical audit trail of your backups.
  • Air-gapped cloud solutions: Specialized providers host your backups in isolated “air-gapped” environments, physically disconnected from your network, making them nearly impenetrable to malware or network attacks.
  • Blockchain-Platforms: Emerging technologies leverage blockchain’s tamper-proof ledger to record every backup event. Each action forms a linked block, creating an unalterable chain of proof for your data’s history and integrity.
  • Easier to oversee: Does the cloud provider manage the hardware, infrastructure, and software required for backup for you

On-prem? Cloud? Hybrid? 

A hybrid, mashup immutable backup solution offers the best of on-prem (speed) and cloud (security and flexibility). If your budget’s elastic enough for all two, it can level up your data protection, recoverability, and resiliency in any disruption.

Key considerations

  • Compliance and regulatory requirements:  Both immutable backup options offer compliance features that help you comply with GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS, which require data protection and retention
  • Data retention policies: Define and manage data carefully, as you can’t alter or delete immutable data until the retention period expires
  • Scalability: When your data needs grow and you need to scale, will your third-party provider’s fees balloon?
  • Cost: While cloud solutions reduce upfront costs, ongoing subs can pile up. On-prem solutions have higher initial costs but offer more control over long-term expenses.

Good housekeeping 

  • Regularly put your backup and recovery processes through their paces 
  • Stay updated on evolving threats and educate employees about cybersecurity best practices

Where does immutable backup fit into a business continuity plan?

If you need an extra layer of protection from 1) ransomware and cyberattacks, 2) insider threats, and 3) accidental user error, immutable backups relieve all three pain points – whether on-prem or cloud. But there’s a way to level up the resilience of your data even more. 

The 3-2-1-1-0 strategy

Hollywood zip code? NASA Flight Director stammering through the countdown of a rocket launch. Nope, it’s a straightforward five-step recipe to bake resilience into your business continuity. 

  • 3 copies: Keep at least three copies of your data. The original on your primary system, plus two more backups to avoid losing everything if one copy becomes corrupted or inaccessible
  • 2 media types: Combine hard drives, SSDs, tapes, optical media, or cloud storage (3-2-1-1-0 is about not putting all your eggs in one basket.)
  • 1 offsite copy: Keep one backup copy offsite to protect your data from physical threats like fire, flooding, or theft that might impact your primary location and onsite backups
  • 1 immutable copy: Storage based on the WORM model is crucial in protecting against ransomware or accidental modification errors. (While not originally part of the 3-2-1 rule, it’s becoming super important in 2024 and beyond).

0 errors: Regularly test your recovery processes to ensure you can retrieve your data when needed and that the backups are complete and error-free. (An incomplete or corrupt backup is as bad as having no backup.)

Benefits of the 3-2-1-1-0 strategy:

  • Increased data protection: Multiple copies and diverse storage locations minimize the risk of data loss
  • Enhanced security: Immutable storage helps safeguard against data corruption and ransomware attacks
  • Faster recovery: With readily available backups, you can restore your data quickly in case of disruption
  • Improved compliance: Many regulations require specific data retention and accessibility practices, which this strategy addresses
  • Peace of mind: Knowing your data is secure and recoverable offers significant peace of mind and reduces the impact of potential data loss

If you remember two things…

🪺 3-2-1-1-0 is about not putting all your backup eggs in one basket

🪺 Adjust based on needs, data sensitivity, and budget but prioritize multiple 

     copies on diverse storage media and regular backups

Is it worth leveling up your data resilience in 2024?

Put it this way, there were 623.3 million ransomware attacks globally in 2021. While in 2022, 1 in 5 cybercrimes were down to ransomware. IT people mostly speak about ‘when,’ not ‘if’ a company’s security perimeter will be breached, whether it’s through disruption or data disaster. (Disaster recovery: Want to know more?

A front-to-end backup strategy includes integrating these solutions:

  • Immutable backups: On-prem or cloud
  • Agile backups: Backup as a service (BaaS) 

Rapid recovery: Disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS)

BaaS and DraaS add different agility and recovery speed levels, while Immutable backups provide WORM-based data protection. Together, they take your company’s ability to bounce back operationally after a setback to Spiderman levels. 

Is upgrading your backup options high on your list of must-dos in 2024?

We’re about 1)teaming up to generate outcomes, 2)leaving your organization stronger after every meet, and 3)building trust for the next big sprint (or marathon). Are you shopping around for a backup partner? Let’s talk.