Should we be encrypting backups?

It’s about the restore, stupid


Workshop We all know that data protection regulations are gaining teeth. As we discussed before, it is becoming more difficult to keep data losses private, and the damage to reputation and other penalties incurred following data breaches are now significant.

Data protection laws in particular are being tightened up, with the potential for large financial penalties to be imposed for the loss or leakage of data. Fines may come not only from general data protection bodies, but also individual industry regulators in verticals such as financial services or healthcare. Data breach notification laws, pioneered very effectively by California, are planned for Europe. These have shown that the real cost of a data loss is the clean-up afterwards. Companies suffer from the loss of reputation and trust in a brand, as well as having to foot the bill for fraud monitoring, credit protection and possible recompense for those people affected.

Now, you may well be thinking: "That's all well and good, but how does it affect me?" Legislation is effectively raising the bar and sending a message that dealing with risks posed by a data breach is important, and that the efforts made to secure the data held will be used to determine the level of penalties should a breach occur. So doing nothing may be an option, but it will probably be a very expensive one. Accepting this, how can you approach what for many is a very murky problem – and can encryption help?

That old chestnut, off-site backup, is the traditional starting point for data protection. However this does involve risk at multiple points: transporting the backups, holding them at a third party, and then being able to recover the data at a future time. Encryption of the backed-up data certainly appears to be part of the solution: it enables safe transport and storage, providing the passwords or keys are kept separate from the data itself, of course.

However, backup is only half of the answer when it comes to data protection and availability - the flip-side is restoration of data if required. At this point, encryption makes things harder, not easier. How many companies have implemented a system to guarantee that encrypted information can be retrieved and restored? To do so requires a comprehensive catalogue of backups, combined with encryption key or password management information. It may be a challenge keeping records, especially as the retention periods for these data sets can extend into years and decades.

As a system of many interacting steps, many of which are complex and temperamental, the whole of the problem may seem like much more than the sum of its parts. Keeping a firm grip on encrypted data will be dependent on process, documentation and management tools. Regular testing of restore capability must also be part of the process, ideally as part of formal Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) procedures.

It is tempting to focus efforts on testing restores on fairly recent active data. After all, there are whole libraries of the old stuff! But is this really going to be enough? Indeed, if it can’t be guaranteed that old, encrypted data can be restored at some point in the future, is there really any point in keeping it at all?

Long-term access to backup data has many associated risks. For example, job rotation and rapid technology obsolescence mean that this is often left as a problem for somebody else to solve. The physical condition of the tape may deteriorate. Tape readers may become obsolete (even NASA has this problem). Encryption adds to the complexity of the problem of data restoration, and as with all the other issues this must be tackled to ensure long-term retrieval is viable. Process is as vital in ensuring success as the technology used, perhaps even more so as technology changes frequently but people are slow to change – as, to be fair, is the data.

We're not claiming to have all the answers here. But as encryption once again piques the interest of the media, it is worth considering the practicalities and ramifications when it comes to this fundamental area of data protection – that of backup and restore. Whatever approach is followed to encrypting backups, key management will likely become the over-riding issue to ensure that access to the data is still possible after many years. Tough as it sometimes can be, most organisations would not think of running important systems without backups and recovery plans in place. But neglecting the same with encrypted data and keys, lays a business open to losing access to important data with a very difficult path to recovery.

Have you ever had a data wipe-out from lost keys? Has encryption saved your bacon? Please let us know. ®

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • D-Wave deploys first US-based Advantage quantum system
    For those that want to keep their data in the homeland

    Quantum computing outfit D-Wave Systems has announced availability of an Advantage quantum computer accessible via the cloud but physically located in the US, a key move for selling quantum services to American customers.

    D-Wave reported that the newly deployed system is the first of its Advantage line of quantum computers available via its Leap quantum cloud service that is physically located in the US, rather than operating out of D-Wave’s facilities in British Columbia.

    The new system is based at the University of Southern California, as part of the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computing Center hosted at USC’s Information Sciences Institute, a factor that may encourage US organizations interested in evaluating quantum computing that are likely to want the assurance of accessing facilities based in the same country.

    Continue reading
  • Bosses using AI to hire candidates risk discriminating against disabled applicants
    US publishes technical guide to help organizations avoid violating Americans with Disabilities Act

    The Biden administration and Department of Justice have warned employers using AI software for recruitment purposes to take extra steps to support disabled job applicants or they risk violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

    Under the ADA, employers must provide adequate accommodations to all qualified disabled job seekers so they can fairly take part in the application process. But the increasing rollout of machine learning algorithms by companies in their hiring processes opens new possibilities that can disadvantage candidates with disabilities. 

    The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the DoJ published a new document this week, providing technical guidance to ensure companies don't violate ADA when using AI technology for recruitment purposes.

    Continue reading
  • How ICE became a $2.8b domestic surveillance agency
    Your US tax dollars at work

    The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has spent about $2.8 billion over the past 14 years on a massive surveillance "dragnet" that uses big data and facial-recognition technology to secretly spy on most Americans, according to a report from Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology.

    The research took two years and included "hundreds" of Freedom of Information Act requests, along with reviews of ICE's contracting and procurement records. It details how ICE surveillance spending jumped from about $71 million annually in 2008 to about $388 million per year as of 2021. The network it has purchased with this $2.8 billion means that "ICE now operates as a domestic surveillance agency" and its methods cross "legal and ethical lines," the report concludes.

    ICE did not respond to The Register's request for comment.

    Continue reading
  • Fully automated AI networks less than 5 years away, reckons Juniper CEO
    You robot kids, get off my LAN

    AI will completely automate the network within five years, Juniper CEO Rami Rahim boasted during the company’s Global Summit this week.

    “I truly believe that just as there is this need today for a self-driving automobile, the future is around a self-driving network where humans literally have to do nothing,” he said. “It's probably weird for people to hear the CEO of a networking company say that… but that's exactly what we should be wishing for.”

    Rahim believes AI-driven automation is the latest phase in computer networking’s evolution, which began with the rise of TCP/IP and the internet, was accelerated by faster and more efficient silicon, and then made manageable by advances in software.

    Continue reading
  • Pictured: Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way
    We speak to scientists involved in historic first snap – and no, this isn't the M87*

    Astronomers have captured a clear image of the gigantic supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy for the first time.

    Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A* for short, is 27,000 light-years from Earth. Scientists knew for a while there was a mysterious object in the constellation of Sagittarius emitting strong radio waves, though it wasn't really discovered until the 1970s. Although astronomers managed to characterize some of the object's properties, experts weren't quite sure what exactly they were looking at.

    Years later, in 2020, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to a pair of scientists, who mathematically proved the object must be a supermassive black hole. Now, their work has been experimentally verified in the form of the first-ever snap of Sgr A*, captured by more than 300 researchers working across 80 institutions in the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration. 

    Continue reading
  • Shopping for malware: $260 gets you a password stealer. $90 for a crypto-miner...
    We take a look at low, low subscription prices – not that we want to give anyone any ideas

    A Tor-hidden website dubbed the Eternity Project is offering a toolkit of malware, including ransomware, worms, and – coming soon – distributed denial-of-service programs, at low prices.

    According to researchers at cyber-intelligence outfit Cyble, the Eternity site's operators also have a channel on Telegram, where they provide videos detailing features and functions of the Windows malware. Once bought, it's up to the buyer how victims' computers are infected; we'll leave that to your imagination.

    The Telegram channel has about 500 subscribers, Team Cyble documented this week. Once someone decides to purchase of one or more of Eternity's malware components, they have the option to customize the final binary executable for whatever crimes they want to commit.

    Continue reading
  • Ukrainian crook jailed in US for selling thousands of stolen login credentials
    Touting info on 6,700 compromised systems will get you four years behind bars

    A Ukrainian man has been sentenced to four years in a US federal prison for selling on a dark-web marketplace stolen login credentials for more than 6,700 compromised servers.

    Glib Oleksandr Ivanov-Tolpintsev, 28, was arrested by Polish authorities in Korczowa, Poland, on October 3, 2020, and extradited to America. He pleaded guilty on February 22, and was sentenced on Thursday in a Florida federal district court. The court also ordered Ivanov-Tolpintsev, of Chernivtsi, Ukraine, to forfeit his ill-gotten gains of $82,648 from the credential theft scheme.

    The prosecution's documents [PDF] detail an unnamed, dark-web marketplace on which usernames and passwords along with personal data, including more than 330,000 dates of birth and social security numbers belonging to US residents, were bought and sold illegally.

    Continue reading
  • Another ex-eBay exec admits cyberstalking web souk critics
    David Harville is seventh to cop to harassment campaign

    David Harville, eBay's former director of global resiliency, pleaded guilty this week to five felony counts of participating in a plan to harass and intimidate journalists who were critical of the online auction business.

    Harville is the last of seven former eBay employees/contractors charged by the US Justice Department to have admitted participating in a 2019 cyberstalking campaign to silence Ina and David Steiner, who publish the web newsletter and website EcommerceBytes.

    Former eBay employees/contractors Philip Cooke, Brian Gilbert, Stephanie Popp, Veronica Zea, and Stephanie Stockwell previously pleaded guilty. Cooke last July was sentenced to 18 months behind bars. Gilbert, Popp, Zea and Stockwell are currently awaiting sentencing.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022