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Advantages of Immutable Backups


Data is the driving force behind today’s modern enterprises. Companies store their customer’s’ data to gain insights into trends, acquire competitive advantages, personalize the user experience, create targeted marketing campaigns, and more. This data is easily the most critical asset for a business—but this also makes it the most targeted asset by cybercriminals. As threats against the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data have become more advanced, the need for strong backup solutions has become essential. One of the most robust of these options is immutable storage, also known as immutable backups. In this article, we go over the numerous benefits this control offers for cybersecurity and other fields, and explain why it is such a useful strategic tool.

What Are Immutable Backups?

“Immutable” means “unchanging”, so immutable backups cannot be deleted or altered for a set period once they are written. This is because they use Write One, Read Many (WORM) technology, protecting data from accidental or malicious tampering. Immutable backups enforce this principle of “once written, never changed” through a variety of technical and policy mechanisms, such as the following:
  • WORM (Write-Once, Read-Many): This is the core mechanism that enforces immutability. It ensures that data becomes read-only from the point of creation, meaning any deliberate or accidental attempts to change this data will fail. 
  • Data Versioning and Snapshots: Immutable backups create, timestamp, preserve, and maintain multiple versions of data. They make new copies instead of overwriting older ones, allowing companies to recover back to a safe version of data if a recent version becomes corrupted.
  • Data Retention Policies: Business and data owners can set retention policies that govern how long immutable backups are stored. These are often dictated by business needs and the regulatory requirements governing the company’s specific industry, such as finance, legal, or healthcare. Other factors, such as the nature of data (for example, intellectual property, trademarks, etc.), might require longer periods to protect against theft or espionage.

What Benefits Do Immutable Backups Provide?

Immutable backups offer direct and indirect benefits in cybersecurity as well as other fields. Some of their advantages are:

  • Protection Against Malware: This can be a massive boon for financial, legal, healthcare, and other industries often targeted by cyberattacks such as ransomware. Ransomware attacks are designed to encrypt the victim’s data and make it unavailable until a ransom is paid, and they can even locate and encrypt backups. However, if the backups are immutable, then they cannot be encrypted, sparing the target from the ransomware and providing a secure way of recovering to a safe state before the attack. 
  • Protection Against Accidental Data Tampering or Deletion: There is a serious risk of people accidentally tampering with or deleting data, especially in companies with complex IT environments. Immutable backups ensure that human error does not result in business disruption; it also ensures that recovery is easier if an error does occur.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Many industries have stringent data integrity and retention requirements from standards such as GDPR and HIPAA that require strict controls around personal data. Immutable backups allow industries to comply with these standards for auditing and compliance. 
  • Disaster Recovery: A secure copy of data can be a lifeline to a company when faced with a severe cyberattack or disaster that halts business operations. Having an immutable backup copy allows businesses to recover back to an intact copy of data with minimum difficulty. 
  • Increased Trust from Customers: Immutable backups allow companies to demonstrate their consideration for data integrity and reliability. It provides customers assurance that their data is secure and protected against cyberattacks. 
  • Cost- Effectiveness: Although the initial investment may be higher than regular backups, immutable backups can be more cost- effective in the long run. The return on security investment can be easily demonstrated by mitigating the risk of attacks from ransomware, sparing the victim from severe legal and recovery costs.
  • Enhanced Productivity: Immutable backups can also streamline the backup and recovery process, easily one of the heaviest administrative burdens on technology teams. IT teams can focus on other, more productive tasks by automating the backup, recovery, and security of these data copies.

These are just a few of the critical advantages that immutable backups provide, demonstrating how they can be a vital strategic control that should form part of every company’s data management strategy.

What Are the Use Cases of Immutable Backups?

There are many use cases for immutable backups across a variety of industries. Here, we’ll provide two examples.

In the financial industry, immutable backups are useful for transaction log preservation. There are strict requirements to ensure the integrity of transaction data to protect against fraud or cyber-attacks. Any question about the integrity of these files can be devastating to the reputation of a company, resulting in strict fines from regulators. By implementing immutable backups, companies can ensure that transactions cannot be changed once recorded, providing assurance that the logs are accurate and protected.

In the healthcare industry, immutable backups are useful for patient record integrity. Like the financial industry, the healthcare industry has strict obligations around patient and healthcare information. The integrity of medical records is crucial as it directly impacts further activities like insurance, billing, and continuing patient care. Any deliberate or accidental tampering of this data can directly impact the health of thousands of patients. Immutable backups allow healthcare companies to enforce strict integrity controls around this information from its creation. This also helps them to demonstrate their commitment to data integrity in front of regulators.

What Should Be Considered When Adopting Immutable Backups?

Although immutable backups provide many advantages, they cannot be implemented carelessly. Companies must take some considerations into account when adopting immutable backups as a control. Here are some things to bear in mind:

  • Storage Requirements: Immutable backups require large amounts of storage because they keep making new copies of data instead of deleting older data. For companies with large amounts of data, the cost of managing this can become arduous. It is essential to balance the need for immutable backups with the cost of effectively scaling them over time. Implementing these backups for all systems is not advisable. Instead, a structured approach based on business priority should be adopted. 
  • Training and Awareness: IT teams who manage these backups should be trained in how they differ from traditional backups. Maintenance and integration of these systems with traditional IT infrastructures can be complex, and this learning curve needs to be considered. 
  • Governance and Regulations: Data governance and legal teams should dictate the policies around immutable backups. Incorrectly setting data retention policies can result in non-compliance with regulations and immutable backups failing to demonstrate business value.

The Way Forward

As cyber threats evolve and advance, immutable backups will play an even more prominent role in cybersecurity strategies. New trends like cloud computing and AI will also factor into their growing adoption: cloud platforms can provide the scalability and flexibility companies need to adopt these backups at scale, while AI can help to predict storage requirements and enforce intelligent automation to lower costs.

Both today and in the future, immutable backups are a highly effective control against modern cyber threats, while also providing benefits regarding compliance and productivity. As a result, they are an essential part of modern cybersecurity frameworks, and modern business in general.

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Meet the Author
Mike Dillon is Quest's Chief Technology Officer.
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