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Using Tape to Back Up? Ensure You Keep It Secure

Tape media has been around for a long time and is one of the most cost-effective ways to store large amounts of cold data. While it’s by no means the most efficient storage method, especially not for data that requires semi-regular access to, some businesses still use it for archive.

Though some manufacturers have stopped producing tape altogether, some continue to develop and push the abilities of the storage method. For example, LTO now offer 15TB capacities per cartridge, with predictions showing that this could reach 120TB per cartridge in a couple of years.

With so much data potentially stored on a single tape, it’s vitally important that to consider the security of the tape. Obviously you should always think about security no matter what your storage method, but let’s look at some considerations that apply to tape.

Tapes are very portable and easy to move outside the data centre, should someone have malicious intentions. Encryption will ensure that even if your tape does end up in the wrong hands, the data stored on it can’t be accessed without the encryption key. Encrypting your data isn’t complicated either, with many drives actually having the feature built-in. If you use a backup software vendor, then they may offer their own encryption feature. Remember, however, that you need a strong key management process when using encryption – it’ll all fall down if the keys to unlock the data are accessible to malicious individuals.

If you are controlling your own physical management of tapes then you need to ensure that they aren’t easily removable, either from the data centre or the automated backup system. You can use a tape library that is off-site from a main data centre, ensuring that you have redundancies in your backups. Keep track of your media, label it appropriate and record all of its movements. You need to have an audit trail of your data, should something go wrong.

This is all well and good, but everything will fall down if the backup software or vendor you’re using isn’t properly secured and audited. Only trusted parties should have access to the data and restore capabilities and there should be full tracking of every moment. Have restores or data movements logged at an individual level, rather than a group, so you know exactly who is handling your data and where they’re moving it to.

These factors are things to consider when it comes to security, but you should also consider the efficiency of tape. While perhaps cheaper compared to some other storage options, tapes require physical shipment to be loaded into the necessary drives, then the tape has to be wound until the specific data required is located. If you’re using tape as a storage method in your disaster recovery plan, then you might want to reconsider. While it can store large amounts of data, it can also take a long time to bring that data back online – when every second of downtime costs. Consider using tape as a part of your solution, but not the sole component.

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