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Immutable Backups: What It Is, How It Works, & Getting Started

Jesse Sumrak

Immutable backups are the modern-day answer to skyrocketing cybercrime. Cyber attacks continue to grow year after year, leading them to become the greatest transfer of economic wealth in history. A single ransomware attack costs an average of $1.85 million, and that’s an expense most startups and small businesses can’t afford.

While cybersecurity tools and best practices can deter attackers and prevent infiltration, they’re far from foolproof. Around 60% of small-to-medium-sized businesses globally suffered a cyber attack in 2020, and half of them weren’t able to mitigate the attacks. If a hacker is patient and determined enough, it’s a matter of when (not if) they breach your system.

Fortunately, not all hope is lost. Immutable backups are one of many mechanisms you can add to your business’s overall cyber resilience strategy to keep your company, employees, and customers safe.

We’ll assume you’re brand new to immutable backups, so we’ll cover every nook and cranny of the topic. First, we’ll go over the core definition and explanation behind immutable backups—then, we’ll get into why they’re essential, how they work, and ways for you to protect your business.

What Are Immutable Backups?

An immutable backup is a file that can’t be modified, deleted, or encrypted. It’s unchangeable. Keeping immutable backups of your critical business data ensures hackers can’t irrevocably steal or destroy your data—regardless of ransomware or successful breaches.

At its core, an immutable backup is simply a backup that can’t be changed. However, the way cybersecurity businesses approach this solution differs.

For example, most businesses follow a 3-2-1 backup rule:

  • 3 copies of the data
  • 2 different media types used (e.g., external hard drive or flash memory)
  • 1 copy stored off-site

Airiam takes it one step further with a 3-2-1-1 backup approach—adding 1 extra with an immutable (also known as air-gapped) backup.

Mutable Backups Vs. Immutable Backups: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever stored sensitive information, backup files, or even personal images on a flash drive? You hold them separately there, just in case your primary computer crashes or you lose access to your cloud storage. However, when you go to recover or access your files, you find that your flash drive is corrupted (due to viruses, physical damage, or unsafe ejections).

This problem occurs because your flash drive is mutable. You can add, delete, modify, and encrypt anything on that flash drive at a whim—all you need is physical access to the drive (which is probably tucked in a desk drawer or your backpack).

You can’t replicate the same issue with immutable backups. They can’t be modified or deleted—thus, the data on them is safe from hackers, administrators, and even yourself.

When your system gets hacked or you experience data loss, you can rely on your immutable backup to instantly restore your digital assets without any service disruptions. You get to maintain regulatory data compliance requirements and don’t have to pay expensive ransom fees to get your data back.

Why Do Businesses Need Immutable Backups?

Don’t leave immutable backups on your business’s cybersecurity wishlist—this should be a top priority from the get-go. Remember, your business will be attacked, and larger (more resourceful) companies than yours have fallen before.

You’ve likely seen big brand names like Uber, Adobe, Yahoo Inc., LinkedIn, and Facebook lose data to cyberattacks—and they have cybersecurity teams with thousands of employees and spend billions (with a “b”) on security.

Immutable backups shouldn’t be your backup plan (pun intended). They should be your primary recovery plan. Here’s why:

Recover Files Instantly

Immutable backups let you recover your files instantly and resume operations as normal. You don’t have to wait around on cybersecurity teams to try and rescue the data or negotiate with hackers. You simply contact your immutable backup solution provider and kickstart the process of restoring your files.

When you work with a provider like Airiam, we do all the heavy lifting for you. We watch your systems 24/7/365. When there’s an attack, we take charge of fully restoring your backup data and keeping your systems online.

Never Pay Ransoms

Once upon a time, enterprises made traditional backups a big part of their cybersecurity plan, but hackers got smart. Bad actors realized that they couldn’t get paid ransom if companies had backups they could rely on, so they began to destroy backups, encrypt data, and attack backup servers. With no other alternative to recover their data, businesses were forced to eat the bill and pay the ransom.

Immutable backups protect your money and ensure attackers never hold your data hostage. They might destroy your mutable backup paths and encrypt your data, but an immutable backup will restore everything good as new and help you carry on without disruption.

Maintain Uninterrupted Service

Your customers likely rely on your business for their operations or shopping needs—if your systems crash, they suffer, too. Having an immutable backup helps you recover quickly without experiencing downtime or hiccups.

Not only do your customers have a better user experience, but they also have more trust in your business. No client wants to hear that your services are unavailable due to an attack or data loss, and 81% say they’d stop engaging with a brand following a data breach.

Ensure Stronger Compliance

Healthcare, finance, insurance, and data protection companies must comply with stricter compliance regulations. Having immutable storage backups fulfills many of those constraints and ensures greater customer protection.

Trust Your Backup Is Safe

Having a backup is one thing—having one you can 100% trust is another. An immutable backup provides a guarantee that you can restore your lost data. No questions asked.

You don’t have to worry about ransomware attacking your systems, earthquakes crashing your servers, or water sprinklers drowning your external hard drives. Rest assured knowing your backup is safe and reliable.

Who Needs Immutable Backups?

Any company that has sensitive information in a digital format should have immutable backups. While we typically think of enterprise companies and large organizations needing cybersecurity, everyone from startups to SMBs should invest in cyber resilience, too.

Do you have customer data stored online? Even simple things like first name, last name, email address, and phone number? Do you have a website or mobile application? What about business-critical images and video files?

If you answer “yes” to any of the questions above, it’s probably worth your time to invest in immutable backups.

How Do Immutable Backups Work?

Immutable backups work by storing data with a write-one-read-many (WORM) method. Businesses choose what data they want to be backed up, how often they want it backed up, and how long it’s stored.

You’ll find various immutable backup solutions at different cybersecurity and cyber resilience companies. At Airiam, we fully manage your data (from architecture and deployment to configuration and recovery). We hold the encryption keys to your immutable backup, so hackers can never steal them from you.

We physically separate your immutable backups from your network and backup servers. We safely encrypt data from your servers using AES 256-bit encryption and transmit via TLS 1.2 to ensure your data stays safe during transit and at rest. Once it safely reaches our network, your data becomes immutable.

What to Look for in an Immutable Backup Solution

Here are a few things to consider when choosing an immutable backup solution for your business:

1. Secure Encryption Keys

If you can directly access your encryption keys, hackers can, too. You need secure keys that hackers can’t steal when they infiltrate your system.

That’s why Airiam never gives you the encryption keys to your immutable backup—only we can open it for you. This process removes additional risks from the process on your end, and it adds additional accountability on ours. We don’t just hand you the keys and let you figure things out on your own—we help restore your servers and recover as quickly as possible.

2. Layers of Separation

Separate your immutable backups from your network and backup sets. Attackers can follow network links and reach your backup sets from on-premise networks. Airiam turns off VPNs to your site and transmits backup snapshots in the cloud over HTTPS/TLS rather than SMB or CIFS.

3. Backup Restoration

Partner with a backup solution that helps you with restoration, recovery, and prevention. You want a partner that’ll help build your disaster recovery plan and upgrade your recovery processes—not a solution that leaves you high and dry when you need them most.

4. Continuous Evolution

Cyber resilience isn’t a check box on your cybersecurity to-do list. It’s an ever-evolving component of your security and privacy that needs frequent reviewing and updating. Choose a backup solution that doesn’t settle for one-and-done solutions. Find a provider that continues to evolve its systems (and yours) to ensure top-notch security.

5. Compliance Regulation

Datacenters provide varying levels of compliance. Ensure that your chosen solution has the specific compliance your business and industry require. All of Airiam’s data centers comply with SOC 1 & 2, PCI DSS, HIPAA, and ISO 27001, and we use globally distributed locations to try to keep your data in your country.

6. Data Location

You may need a specific solution depending on where your data lives. Not every backup will work for on-premise, data centers, or AWS or Azure servers. Research your options to ensure your solution works with where you store your data.

7. Pricing

Pricing will always be a top consideration, but an immutable backup is like an insurance policy. Sometimes, it can be expensive, but you want to be able to rely on it if something happens. And when it comes to cybersecurity, you’re much more likely to get hacked than you are to get in a car accident—so don’t roll the dice when it comes to high-quality backups.

Trust Airiam’s Approach to Immutable Backups

Our AirGapd™ cybersecurity solution provides disaster recovery, immutable cloud backups, and continuity services for servers, workstations, and Office 365. We follow a 3-2-1-1 backup rule to add an extra layer of security to your business and digital assets with flexible recovery paths.

Want to learn more?

Tell us a little more about your company’s disaster recovery and backups needs, and a member of our team will reach out with more details.

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