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How can I ensure that my tape backup technology is secure?

With the portability of tapes and the ability to store terabytes of data on a single cartridge, appropriate security of tape backup storage is imperative.

Tape media still remains one of the most cost-effective ways to store large volumes of cold or inactive data. Tapes have been used for decades for long-term backup and archive requirements. Vendors have continued to push the limits of capacity and performance for drives and media -- for example, LTO in its seventh generation offers capacities of 15 TB per cartridge. Roadmap predictions show this reaching 120 TB per cartridge in a few years. Naturally, security is paramount with tape backup technology, as tapes store so much data on a single device.

Some best practice considerations include:

  • Encryption. Tapes must be encrypted. Ultimately, tape backup technology is highly portable and easily concealed for transportation outside of the data center. With the ability to have so much data on a single cartridge, encryption is essential.

    The process of encryption itself isn't that complicated. Modern drives have built-in encryption capabilities, so it's just a case of putting into place the proper key management processes to ensure encryption keys are properly secured. If media encryption isn't directly supported, then many backup software vendors offer this feature within their products.
  • Compliance. Data security also applies to compliance, where tape backup technology is used for long-term archiving. WORM (write once, read many) drive capabilities enable content to be stored as "read-only" once written to tape, creating an immutable record for future retrieval. Many organizations use backup as a form of archive, so having the ability to lock certain backups provides a basic level of compliance capability.
  • Physical management. Where possible, tapes shouldn't leave the data center or be easily removable from automated backup systems (like tape libraries). If practical, tape libraries can sit off site from the main data center to prevent the loss of both backup and primary data in a disaster situation. Media should be labeled and tracked carefully if it is ever removed, ensuring that an audit trail can be produced if the tape backup technology does go missing.
  • Backup software security. We should remember that all of the above precautions are irrelevant if the backup software itself isn't safely secured and audited. This means restricting access to restore capabilities and having audit trails in place for any restores that are tracked to individual users.

Next Steps

Tape backup technologies improve capacity, aid archiving

Tape backup encryption: The good and the bad

Why tape could be best for security of archives

This was last published in November 2016

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