Feb 022010

There’s a simple rule to remember when it comes to removable media handling (both within backups, and generally within IT) – if you don’t know where your media is, you can’t be certain someone hasn’t misappropriated it.

Taking this further, if you can’t be sure of the security of your backup media, you can’t be sure of the security of your backups; and if you can’t be sure of the security of your backups, you can’t be sure of your security of your data.

So, how can you be certain of the security of your media, and therefore your backups and data?

Here’s a few guidelines:

  • Always use reputable media handling companies. This is for a two-fold requirement. First, you want to make sure that the company that handles and stores your media knows how to treat it carefully. That means correct handling procedures, storage in appropriate environmental conditions, and storage in a location that is unlikely to be affected by disasters that could affect your datacentre. The second part of the requirement is knowing that the media is always secure. This means signed, authorised access, a known reputation for security, audited processes and (preferably) premises that you can periodically visit to confirm security levels.
  • Store media securely on-site too. It is far from the case that media can only be stolen when off-site or travelling to/from site. Indeed, some of Australia’s biggest media losses have occurred on-site due to poor media handling security. (I seriously doubt Australia is unique in this). Tapes shouldn’t be kept insecurely anywhere on-site. When being transported from the computer room to on-site storage, they should be securely monitored at all times. When readying for transport off-site, they should be kept under lock and key, or kept in a secure location. And when at-rest on-site, they should also be kept under lock and key.
  • Media encryption. For a long time media encryption has been available only to the high end of enterprise backup. However, with tape technologies such as LTO-4 incorporating hardware encryption, any company using removable media in their backup environment should either:
    • Already be using media encryption, or
    • Be actively planning moving to media encryption, or
    • If nothing else, use NetWorker’s software encryption on critically sensitive data if the business is too small to afford hardware-encryption devices. This means taking a hit on backup performance, but as the old saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I.e., there’s always a cost to encryption.
  • Secure key management. Media encryption doesn’t mean a thing if you’re not using some form of secure key management. Discuss and plan backup key management with your corporate security policy makers.
  • Have established, immutable processes for the recall of media. Media that has been sent to offsite storage should either be returned under specific, agreed circumstances. That may be a fixed rotation policy normally, with provisions for recall for recoveries with specific authorisation. Make sure that authorisation process is locked down with your media offsite vendor so that social engineering attacks can’t be employed (particularly when it comes to ex-employees).
  • Use strong password management for backup server access. As I’ve previously discussed, your entire backup environment is only as secure as your backup server. This places a special responsibility on backup and system administrators to ensure that the backup environment is highly secure.

Of course, there’s more to backup systems security than the above, but I wanted to focus primarily on physical security considerations for removable media, which for a lot of sites represent the weakest link in the security of the backup environment (and by extension, a significantly weak link in the security of the company’s IT systems and data as well).

If you fail to focus on removable media security, you potentially leave your company open to data loss.

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