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A New/Old Weapon Against Ransomware: Tape Backup

In just a few short years, ransomware has emerged as one of cybersecurity’s most dominant, persistent and treacherous threats. In 2016, ransomware payments reached more than $1 billion, according to the FBI, up from just $24 million paid in 2015. The spike in payments is increasing the velocity and variety of attacks exponentially: In 2017 ransomware on the dark market has grown by 2,500%.

In the ongoing battle against ransomware, savvy organizations are turning to an older technology: Tape backup. It may seem incongruous that a technology some experts have written off as obsolete would be the answer to a critical challenge of the cloud era. The reality, however, is that tape has certain properties that make it ideal for dealing with ransomware, particularly if it is incorporated as one option within an overall data management strategy—and not used as the sole backup platform.

Understanding Ransomware Attacks
To understand the potential role of tape in your overall security strategy, it is important to understand how ransomware works. A ransomware attack is typically launched when an unsuspecting user inadvertently downloads malware. The ransomware encrypts files on the infected machine and spreads to other systems on the network. Every system on the network may be vulnerable, including those used for backup and those seemingly safely protected in the cloud.

Once you are infected, your files are held hostage. If you pay the ransom, you get the encryption key—maybe. Most security professionals and law enforcement authorities recommend that you don’t pay the ransom: It not only encourages more attacks, it doesn’t always work. Even if you pay, you may not be able to recover all—or even most—of your files.

Why Tape, Why Now?
Prevention and preparation are the keys to successfully dealing with ransomware. Obviously, if you can prevent attacks in the first place you are ahead of the game. But that’s not easy. As noted, those who would do harm to your organization are more sophisticated, aggressive and skillful than ever. According to one recent report, ransomware makes up 60% of malware payloads and more than 70% of companies targeted by ransomware attacks have been infected.

So, if prevention doesn’t always work, what about preparation? Every organization can, and should, be prepared to deal with ransomware. That’s where tape comes in. The best way to ensure that you can recover from a ransomware attack is to make sure that you have a separate, offline, reliable and recent copy of your data that cannot be infected by the attack.


Using tape backup as part of an overall data management strategy allows use to follow best practices in data backup and compliance, specifically the widely known 3-2-1 rule, which is:

  • Maintain three separate copies of your data.
  • Store your data on at least two different types of storage media.
  • Keep one copy of your data in an off-site location.

Tape backup is by far the most cost-effective means of ensuring that you have a separate copy of your data in an offline, off-site separate location. Tape is much less expensive than disk or cloud storage and can be simple to use, highly secure and convenient to access—particularly if you work with a leading third-party provider of tape backup and offsite tape vaulting services such as Iron Mountain.

Remember, even if you use disk backup and/or cloud backup to take advantage of their convenience and speed, you should still augment those platforms with tape as your third copy. The data that is stored in disk backup and cloud backup can be infected by an attack if they are on your network. Off-site tape backup is typically offline, meaning the copy is completely disconnected from any network. This means your data is easily recoverable without paying ransom and it means you can get your business back up and running quickly, safely and securely.

The growth of ransomware is creating a resurgence in the popularity of tape backup that is garnering a lot of attention, not just from industry leaders but from hackers and even the mainstream media. As noted by The Wall Street Journal:

Storing data on tape seems impossibly inconvenient in an age of easy-access cloud computing. But that is the big security advantage of this vintage technology, since hackers have no way to get at the information. The federal government, financial services firms, health insurers and other regulated industries still keep tape as a backup to digital records. Now a range of other companies are returning to tape as hackers get smarter about penetrating defenses—and do much more damage when they get in.

Are you ready to go retro with tape backup as a vital element of your overall data management and protection strategy? Visit Iron Mountain to learn how we can help you protect your data so you can keep your focus on business innovation.