How valuable is your data?

We have seen it in ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ and ‘Star Wars’ and countless other movies. But could it happen in real life? Could a fraudster posing as somebody else easily get their hands on valuable assets?

Could any man sporting a uniform and driving a white van, collect your tapes and steal your data at close of business tomorrow? Every day, companies such as yours, entrust their data tapes to couriers or service providers. Do you know what happens to your tapes once they leave your premises? Can you really ensure they won't be copied, lost, stolen or given to a different company by mistake?

For most businesses today data is the most valuable asset. Numerous pieces of research have showed that a large percentage of organisations that lose most of their data through some form of disaster tend to go out of business within a couple of years at the most. It is not surprising then that data security is a top concern for organisations worldwide. And it should not come as a surprise either the fact that portable media like backup tapes pose unique security challenges.

Tapes are frequently entrusted to third parties for offsite storage; the van driving the media to its repository could get stolen – we have heard of this happening more than once or twice. And we wonder: was the target of the theft the van or the tapes? On a smaller scale let's just take individual units. Capable of storing hundreds of GB of data in relatively small cartridges tapes can easily be concealed. And yet, it's amazing the number of companies that have tapes stored on a shelving unit in a corridor outside the IT room or the number of executives who travel with tapes in their briefcases. What if they forgot their briefcase on the train? Or if by accident it got switched with someone else's?

There are two major factors leading to an increase in the risks related to tapes: the fact that the amount of data enterprises are amassing today often runs into terabytes, and the ever-increasing capacity of a single tape. Not to mention the current trend towards virtualisation of data and consolidation of resources which leads to maximum utilization of the media and hence to more and more information being crammed onto each tape.

Assuming that most tapes leave site for business recovery purposes, clear text tapes need to be kept physically secure by using specialist premium secure transport services and a dedicated facility for storing the tapes, where the facility is physically partitioned by the customer organisation. Even this expenditure cannot guarantee protection against accidental loss, and staff is typically shared.

An alternative is to manage tapes in-house at another location. Except for very large organisations, the cost of an in-house solution is usually too large for a single organisation to absorb. Shared services between multiple companies brings the same problem as an outsource solution.

Some companies synchronously replicate data over a dedicated network to a secondary site, where tape backup is taken; however the tapes still need to leave that site to provide true data protection.

There is however light at the end of the tunnel. The key is in encrypting the data stored on the tapes. Data encryption for tapes essentially builds an impregnable physical defence against unauthorised access. This way if a tape falls into the wrong hands it is worthless because the information cannot be read without the correct keys. By the same token, if an unauthorised copy of a tape, or even just part of it, is made, this will be encrypted and therefore protected from preying eyes.

So if you operate in a market that has already woken up to the risks of unencrypted tapes and take the necessary steps to protect your data, well done. If not, start doing your homework now, because the day when your organisation will ask you to start encrypting your media is not far on your calendar.

Joanna Shields is Managing Director EMEA at Decru.

Decru are exhibiting at Storage Expo the UK's largest and most important event dedicated to data storage, now in its 4th year, the show features a comprehensive FREE education programme, and over 90 exhibitors at the National Hall, Olympia, London from 13 - 14 October 2004.


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