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Why Immutable Data Is a Powerful Security Approach

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Data loss is one of the most significant threats facing organizations today. Ransomware, malicious insiders and even simple human error can jeopardize the information businesses rely so heavily upon, so keeping secure backups is essential. Immutable data is one of the strongest defenses against these threats.

Data breach costs have reached an average of $9.44 million in the U.S., but strong incident response plans reduce these expenses by several million. Ensuring immutability in an organization’s backups is an important part of that response.

What Is Immutable Data?

Immutable data is information that no user, even those with administrative privileges, can edit, overwrite, tamper with or delete. Once this information is in storage, it locks into that state, remaining unchanged and unchangeable. That also limits its usability, so this practice generally applies to backups instead of data in active use.

Unlike conventional backups, immutable databases don’t update with new information. Instead, organizations must create backup files for fresh or updated data. Some immutable data storage solutions also come with a timer, locking things for a predetermined period, at which point it becomes rewritable.

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Medical records are some of the most familiar examples of data immutability. When a patient receives new care or a different prescription, it doesn’t cancel out their previous history but rather adds to their list of medical procedures. That’s part of why health care generates thousands of exabytes of data annually. Immutability leads to considerable information volumes.

How Data Immutability Improves Security

Creating and storing data immutability can be challenging, but it’s also a crucial security step. These unchangeable backups reduce the risk of data loss from human error, provide more reliable protection against cybercrime and enable faster, more cost-efficient recoveries.

Protection From Human Error

Cybercrime is the focus of most data loss prevention strategies, but insider mistakes are typically a bigger threat. Ransomware and similar threats are indeed concerning, but in more cases than not, the actual data loss stems from human error. Immutable data minimizes that threat by making it impossible to alter backups.

Employees cannot accidentally delete backups in an immutable database, incorrectly rewrite records or otherwise unintentionally affect backups. Similarly, if an error like accidental deletion or misconfiguration impacts the company’s information in use, workers can restore it using these unchanged backups.

This protection ensures human error doesn’t jeopardize an organization’s other security measures. If it’s impossible to tamper with backups, the company can rely on them fully if something happens. It will also counteract the leading preventable cause of data loss.

Comprehensive Protection From Cybercriminals

Immutable data storage provides another layer of protection against outside threats, too. It’s most advantageous as a defense against ransomware, the fastest-growing type of cybercrime today. If a company has backups it can’t alter, it won’t be as impactful if it loses access to its primary data in a ransomware attack.

Data immutability also addresses an area of security many other methods overlook. Organizations often see backup data as secondary, creating them to enable recoveries but overlooking the importance of securing it as much as additional information. Consequently, cybercriminals can steal sensitive data by targeting these less secure backups.

Immutable backups cannot be altered or deleted by any party, so they’re more resistant to these attacks. Even if a cybercriminal breaks into the database, they won’t be able to tamper with the data, removing the threat of ransomware and similar threats.

Ensuring Effective Recovery

If an organization does fall victim to a ransomware attack or other incident, immutable databases let them recover faster and more effectively. It’s possible to decrypt ransomware-encrypted data, but that process can be challenging and time-consuming. Having reliable backups allows companies to get back up to speed while minimizing downtime.

An immutable database ensures an attack won’t jeopardize the company’s primary data and backups. As a result, it can use the backups to resume mission-critical operations while security teams work to deal with the attack. Less downtime translates into lower costs.

As cybercrime grows in scale and complexity, businesses cannot safely assume they’ll never fall victim to an attack. Cyberattacks are inevitable for some organizations, but data immutability will minimize the disruption these attacks cause.

Making the Most of an Immutable Database

Data immutability provides some substantial security improvements, but it requires a careful approach to make the most of it. These backups store historical context and lead to considerable data volumes, making them difficult to manage. Businesses must ensure they have sufficient dedicated IT infrastructure to keep this information.

In some cases, it may not be possible to use immutable data storage for every backup. For example, some regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) require organizations to delete some data upon users’ requests. A database where administrators can’t delete files is a natural roadblock to compliance with that rule, so data under this legislation isn’t fit for immutability.

Organizations should review their data to see what needs immutability the most. That typically means the most sensitive or mission-critical information, assuming it doesn’t fall under regulations with a deletion clause. Identifying this data will also help keep backup volumes smaller, making immutable databases easier to manage.

Defend Against the Inevitable With Immutable Data

Cyberattacks and human error are virtually inevitable in today’s environment. Ensuring data immutability gives organizations an impenetrable defense against these eventualities. It may be challenging to implement and isn’t ideal for every data set, but immutability provides the protection and peace of mind businesses need to stay secure.

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