By now, everyone is surely aware of the importance of backing up vital data. The modern business creates a staggering amount of data every day, and the move to cloud computing services has led to even more of this data sprawl. Unfortunately, unscrupulous cybercriminals are taking advantage of this and an increasing number of companies are being targeted with sophisticated ransomware attacks that now often involve data theft as well.

The threat of ransomware

Ransomware is now the greatest threat to your organisation’s data, with criminals extorting pay outs in return for returning access to encrypted data which has been encrypted. The criminals achieve this by using specialised software, which gains entry to the target’s systems and networks, and blocks legitimate users from accessing files. The software encrypts the target’s data, and will only provide a decryption key once a “ransom” (typically in an untraceable cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin) has been paid. Naturally, falling victim to such an attack can be disastrous. Disruption to services, lost sales and revenues and upset customers all take their toll, and while the financial cost can be considerable the reputational damage lingers longer. In a new twist, ransomware if often combined with data theft and the threat of public publication or of information being sold to other criminals.

The primary defence against ransomware is to make effective backups. Unfortunately, not everyone keeps them sufficiently up-to-date and many lack the means to restore them quickly. Although the Cloud has introduced some new risks it also provides some far better backup and restore solutions. In fact, keeping your backups locally is inherently flawed. For example, if your backup files are stored on the same systems or in the same datacentres as your live systems, once the ransomware is active it may only be a matter of time before all data is compromised. Local backups may also perish if you suffer a flood, fire or break-in. With the right configuration, cloud-based backup systems are inherently safer.

The trouble with windows

The majority of ransomware attacks take place against Windows systems, and malicious software is written to spread to other Windows machines on your network. Therefore, it makes enormous sense to keep your backups on a non-Windows host, which probably means a Unix-based system such as Linux. Many popular automated backup products currently available offer an alternative to Windows based hosting. There are steps you should take to help secure your Windows systems too, such as turning off services like RDP which are a common conduit for hackers.

Location, Location, Location

Make sure that you have copies of valuable data backups stored in at least one different location, preferably more. Storage on a cloud-based virtual machine is not sufficient protection on its own if there is a chance it could be accessed from your local systems by a hacker, or infected by propagating malware. Separate your datacentre from your virtual backup storage as much as possible by configuring your datacentre with care.

Choosing object-based storage from your hosting provider is an excellent way of ring-fencing your data. Cloud providers will often offer “write once, read many” capability, meaning that your data cannot easily be subsequently modified thereby adding another layer of protection from malicious actors. Backup software can be configured to only allow access to your files from its own user interface, effectively hiding it from ransomware. The benefits of choosing cloud-based storage solutions also include advanced firewall technology.

The security of backup files should be a priority for all businesses and organisations, especially in the current climate. After all, hacks and malware attacks don’t just disrupt businesses, they can destroy them completely. With a little thought and a few careful adjustments to your security protocols, you can make sure that your data is kept secure and your business fully protected.