Backup Tapes - Are you sitting on a ticking time bomb?

Friday, April 8, 2016 by The Data Experts

When delving into the tricky field of tapes, it’s first important to understand the purpose they serve. In the simplest terms, backup tapes are created for business continuity purposes, a means of keeping the business running should access to live systems be lost. An archive is created for the long-term preservation of data, yet many people have little idea of what a backup tape actually looks like. With a range of different names and colors indicating varying capacities, it goes far beyond the typical C90 audio cassette tape or the VHS video tapes which generally spring to mind. In fact, most tapes used for the purposes of backing up or archiving a business system are surprisingly small, approximately one inch deep and not much bigger than a coaster.

The place most people forget to look at

Where an individual has meticulously attempted to cover their tracks, one area that they perhaps haven’t considered, let alone been aware of, are the organization's backup tapes.  However, regardless of what they look like, the capacity of backup tapes (up to 1.5 Terabytes) enables them to hold a potential wealth of information. This is why, when any investigation, litigation or regulatory matter occurs which requires the accessing and examination of historical data, tapes really come into their own.

Make sure you include all your sources

At the beginning of any legal matter, determining the potential sources of digital evidence is key and while the more obvious sources of evidence are usually considered (laptops, desktops, mobile phones, USB memory sticks etc.), it is the evidence to be found on tapes that is constantly overlooked.  These tapes act as a snapshot in time and may contain ‘smoking gun’ evidence that can paint an accurate and contemporaneous picture in spite of any attempts made to cover tracks by deleting or wiping the company laptop.

Ready, set, find the data!

On saying that, getting the relevant data from the tapes is often easier said than done. When you consider the potential volumes of current and legacy tapes a client stores as part of their disaster recovery or archiving strategy, a request to access key data is often a very burdensome task, and one which usually falls on the desk of the IT team. Even if the team has the manpower and necessary software and hardware to do this, trawling through volumes of tapes can have a huge impact on day-to-day business requirements, particularly if compelled to meet demanding deadlines.

When responding to a regulator or complying with disclosure duties, it is imperative that organisations dutifully search for relevant data that is pertinent to the matter. It is also well recognized that the rules of civil litigation usually require a proportionate response to the disclosure of relevant documents. Adverse inferences will likely be made if the reason given for not doing this is:

  • The data hasn’t been adequately preserved, or
  • It is considered too onerous and complex to access the key data

In order to comply with these duties, businesses are increasingly seeking assistance in identifying the potentially relevant legacy tapes that have been kept in storage for the last 10 years, gathering dust and incurring substantial storage costs. It is certainly not unheard of to come across archived tapes that date back so far that the organization no longer has the hardware or software to understand what data the tapes contain.

Better to be safe than sorry (and fined)

Having a better understanding of what data exactly the organization is holding can help reduce the risk of legal exposure and can also reduce costs. Sensible data retention policies can help organisations balance their legal requirements to store particular data for certain time periods, while destroying data that it is no longer required to keep or which no longer has value to the business.

In summary, tapes can be a crucial source of evidence to an internal investigation and can provide large numbers of relevant documents for a large scale review. As such, finding the best way to understand what data you have in your possession is vital. Partnering with a trusted expert to ensure you target only the most relevant tape sets – without the need to recreate the original environment they were backed up on – can ultimately save a lot of time and money, enabling the access and review of key data to happen quickly and efficiently.


Author:  Milagros Gamero

Image by Milagros Gamero