Tape Storage: Security & Backup Matters

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Tape storage certainly isn’t dead, though few vendors work to improve it and few major enterprises talk about it. However, in the wake of numerous, crippling ransomware attacks, tape has become  a possible alternative for storing sensitive data. An ideal offline archival solution, it’s not the only valid choice for enterprises wanting offline backups, but it’s a relatively inexpensive one.

Also Read: 7 Reasons Why Data Backup Is Here to Stay

However, tape also has disadvantages. It’s slow, although the Linear Tape File System (LTFS) for LTO technology does speed data searches within a tape storage system. It’s also fragile, and it has to be assiduously cared for by data center or remote storage administrators. We’ve already analyzed IBM and Fujifilm’s collaboration in the tape arena, and though multiple vendors still sell LTO solutions, their numbers are quickly dwindling. Tape is a potential ransomware protection solution, but how long will it stick around?

Does Tape Storage Protect Data from Ransomware?

The level at which tape can protect enterprise data from a ransomware attack depends on two things: 

  1. How many copies of the data exist, including tape copies, and
  2. Whether the tape is online, in a data center, or completely offline.

The purpose of having offline backups, in this case, is so that ransomware providers can’t access them. Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts data stolen from a computer system, making that data impossible to be retrieved. Ransomware happens for a number of reasons; it often comes from clicking a link in an email. Attackers will send links laden with malicious code to enterprise emails, making them sound as legitimate as possible. Ransomware can also hit a system if an attacker breaches an account, such as by stealing a password. 

Also Read: Could You Be a Ransomware Target?

Data has to be digitally accessible for ransomware to capture it. That’s why offline tape storage is a potential solution — it’s not accessible to ransomware-as-a-service providers at all. Since summer 2021, when major ransomware attacks gained traction, multiple storage experts mentioned the possibility of tape protecting ransomware. According to an IBM brief on tape and offline data protection, tape is “most effective and cost-efficient method of providing” that protection. IBM also cited air-gapping technology as an easy way to take tape-stored data off a data center network, making it unreachable to ransomware providers. 

Concerns About Tape and Ransomware

Not all storage experts believe in tape’s durability, though. It requires software management, which costs money that many tape enthusiasts haven’t factored into the financial equation. 

Storage writer and technologist Henry Newman points out that disks, too, can easily be taken offline for ransomware protection, and they’re cheaper. Though many organizations still use it, tape is shrinking. Only a few vendors — notably IBM, HPE, and Quantum — still release new LTO products; previous tape vendors have been dropping off the radar for years. 

This doesn’t mean that tape has no place as a source of ransomware protection. Two or more offline tape copies, in different locations in case of damage or disaster, could be a less risky method of storing sensitive data. However, tape storage will not satisfy every recovery requirement.  

If the worst-case scenario does occur, and your enterprise undergoes a ransomware attack, you’ll still have your data. But because tape’s recovery time is so slow, you may not be able to recover the data in time to match your required recovery time objective (RTO), which is dependent on the type of offline backup storage you are using. If you can’t meet that demand, it won’t matter as much if your data’s still available. The downtime can still cost your business money.

The Importance of Backup in a Ransomware Era

Regardless of the storage medium, multiple copies of offline data are essential for enterprises to take a confident stance against ransomware. Tape is one solution that provides preservation quality, assuming it is stored properly, and low costs. However, its slow recovery times make it a questionable choice for high-speed enterprise storage needs. Companies that require application data immediately will not be able to recover tape-stored data quickly enough. Despite its lacking speeds, tape is a solid deep archival storage choice and just one backup solution to protect data offline, away from the threat of ransomware. 

Read Next: Two Trends in Tape Storage

Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps is a staff writer for Enterprise Storage Forum and eSecurity Planet, where she covers data storage, cybersecurity and the top software and hardware solutions in the storage industry. She’s also written about containerization and data management. Previously, she wrote for Webopedia. Jenna has a bachelor's degree in writing and lives in middle Tennessee.

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