Archiving risk: security risks associated with tape storage

Written By: Ontrack

Date Published: 06 November 2015 00:00:00 EST

Archiving risk: security risks associated with tape storage

For many years, one of the most common backup practices for businesses has been the use of tape archives. As a tried and tested storage solution, it's still a familiar sight in many firms, even if it looks a little outdated when compared with more modern alternatives such as cloud backups. There is a range of reasons why businesses persist with this storage method. Magnetic tape storage is an inexpensive way to store large amounts of data and it theoretically can last for many years. However, there is tendency to assume that once records have been committed to tape and filed away in either an on-site or off-site storage facility, they can just be forgotten about until they are needed. In fact, there are a number of risks associated with tape storage that businesses will have to be aware of, which may make them rethink whether this is always the most appropriate solution for long-term data storage.

Data degradation

While in theory tape storage can keep records safe for decades, in practice there are a number of factors that can lead to degradation that could render information unreadable. Exposure to heat, damp, dust, manhandling, electromagnetic forces and normal wear and tear can all contribute to a loss of quality that may eventually mean any attempts to recover data from them will be unsuccessful and professional intervention will be required.

Physical threats

Just like any other piece of technology equipment, tape storage solutions will be vulnerable to problems such as natural disasters. Adverse weather conditions such as flooding can render these items unusable, while fire is another danger that is always present when information is being stored in a single facility where there are no other backups.

Keeping unnecessary data

Another common issue with relying on tape storage is that many businesses take an 'out of sight, out of mind' approach to the data. This means that once it has been committed to tape and shipped off to an off-site storage facility, it is forgotten about - even after it should have been deleted. For example, if you've backed up customer databases onto tape, you could still have details for individuals who've long since stopped doing business with you, despite the fact regulations may require you to delete this information. Keeping this data could create big problems for a company if a breach occurs, so companies will need to find a way to ensure this information is permanently erased.

Deleting necessary data

On the other hand, deleting data that businesses are still legally required to keep is an equally big problem. There have been many incidents in the past where enterprises have been required to produce historical data for auditing or investigative purposes, but were unable to do so because it had been erased - either intentionally or accidentally. This can lead to large fines, so businesses must have a clear idea of what they are legally required to keep, and for how long.

Best practices for tape storage and the risks

To minimise the security risks that tape storage comes with, there are a few common best practices that businesses should be following. Primarily, it's important to have alternative backup systems in place for any critical data. This prevents enterprises from relying on systems with a single point of failure, where any data loss can leave a company completely unable to function. When it comes to guarding against degradation and damage, businesses need to look closely at their facility. They need to choose a location that can offer consistent temperature and low humidity. Industry standards have traditionally recommended conditions of between 18 and 21 degrees C and 40 to 50 per cent relative humidity. However, these are based on what has been considered optimal for film storage, and standards committees are beginning to recognise that magnetic tapes benefit from storage at lower temperatures and humidities.

What else should companies consider with tape storage

Companies should also consider encrypting any data that is stored off-site, while also having a clear data destruction policy in place for any information that is no longer relevant to the running of the business. Auditing tape storage archives on a regular basis to identify such information is a must. They also need to make sure they have a plan in place for recovering data from their tape archive should they need to - for instance if primary servers suffer from problems such as hardware failure or natural disasters. As part of this, they also need contingencies in place detailing what to do in the event that the tapes themselves have suffered data loss. If businesses wait until they encounter a problem before thinking about how to deal with this, it will be too late, and they can expect to risk losing large amounts of money while they develop a response strategy.

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