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U.K. trade union fends off ransomware with Asigra backup

After moving off of tapes to Asigra software for disk and cloud backup, the Public and Commercial Services Union gained faster restores -- and foiled a ransomware attack.

The U.K.-based Public and Commercial Services Union learned the value of a smart data protection program two years ago when Asigra backup to the cloud helped it survive a ransomware attack.

Rob Collins, senior support engineer at the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), said he now has a sense of security from that experience, but cannot feel completely safe.

"I'm not that confident, actually," Collins said. "I think I'm probably as safe as I can be, but you never know with ransomware. They're very clever, these people."

Collins was clever, too, when he moved backups from tape onto disk and the cloud for PCS, which represents approximately 200,000 members as one of the U.K.'s largest trade unions.

PCS uses service provider Data2Vault for backup. Data2Vault's data protection is powered by Asigra backup software. Collins said moving to disk- and cloud-based backup five years ago immediately improved restore times for PCS. It also gave PCS the extra insurance of having an off-site copy of the backup data living in a cloud. But, most importantly, it gave PCS a way to recover from a ransomware attack.

Previously, PCS backed up all of its data to tape. Everything was on premises, including staff and members' email and documents, as well as an Oracle database that housed personal member information. Collins said that setup made him nervous.

"Basically, we wanted to get away from tapes," Collins said. "We needed some off-site backup, because we weren't happy with having everything on site."

I think I'm probably as safe as I can be, but you never know with ransomware.
Rob Collinssenior support engineer at PCS

PCS backs up to a local server and replicates that to the cloud. Restoring from backups no longer took days, like it did from tape. Collins estimated that when he needs a restore -- usually as a result of user error or a file getting corrupted -- it takes within a couple of hours on average.

Two years ago, PCS had a different reason to restore from backup: The organization became the target of a ransomware attack. PCS had received ransom email messages in the past, but they were empty threats. In this case, it was real. A user was unable to open a file because it had been encrypted without authorization.

"Luckily, the user didn't have rights to many folders. We managed to stop it right then and there," Collins said.

The Asigra backup software identified a clean copy of the file to restore. As ransomware started targeting and hiding in backup files, it was important for Collins to be sure the copy he was restoring from wasn't already compromised. Asigra backup software could detect if the data was compromised, avoiding future detonations.

Collins said he plans to push as much of PCS' infrastructure as is allowed to the cloud over the next few years. The organization is already backing up Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint and OneDrive on the cloud. However, as per regulations, the membership database containing personally identifiable information must remain on premises, though it can be backed up to the cloud.

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