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How to Protect your Backups from Ransomware

Photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash

Ransomware continues to be among the most serious cyber threats businesses face today. Increasingly, ransomware attacks target backups, which if compromised, can spell disaster – with recovery becoming exceedingly complex, if not impossible. We’ll look at how to protect backups from ransomware, and other best practices to keep your organization secure.

“Your files are now encrypted.” This short message is an organization’s worst nightmare.

It means that a successful ransomware attack has taken place against your company. The system will be inaccessible until a ransom is paid to the attackers, or if you’ve planned well, until you can restore your data from backups.

But what happens when attackers get hold of your backups, too? This is really the worst-case scenario, and is something that businesses will want to avoid at all costs.

We’ll look at how to protect backups from ransomware, what experts recommend in terms of security best practices, and practical steps you can take to ensure an attempted ransomware attack doesn’t shut you down.

What is a ransomware attack?

Ransomware attacks have continuously been in the news of late, with such attacks recently increasing by a worrying 91%. Ransomware attacks are a malicious form of cybercrime where hackers infiltrate computer systems and encrypt valuable files, holding them hostage until a ransom is paid. These attacks typically exploit vulnerabilities in security measures or employ social engineering tactics, such as phishing emails or fake software updates, to gain unauthorized access.

Once the ransomware has infiltrated a system, it swiftly encrypts files, making them inaccessible to the rightful owners. The attackers then demand a ransom, often in the form of cryptocurrency, in exchange for the decryption key that can unlock the files. This creates a dilemma for the victims, who face a difficult decision: either pay the ransom and hope the attackers fulfill their promise to restore access to the files or refuse to pay and risk losing critical data forever.

The impact of ransomware attacks is far-reaching and can be catastrophic. Organizations may face the loss of sensitive customer information, financial records, and intellectual property. Moreover, the financial cost of a ransomware attack can be staggering, as victims must not only consider the ransom payment but also invest significant resources in restoring systems, strengthening security measures, and rebuilding their reputation.

Why is ransomware so dangerous?

Ransomware is exceptionally dangerous for two major reasons:

Ease of attack

In the past, stealing from a business like a bank meant physical danger: criminals would have to break in, carry out the theft, and escape again, all while risking their lives. Today, thanks to ransomware, criminals can steal more money with absolutely zero physical risk – or any risk at all.

An attack can be orchestrated with a laptop and an internet connection from thousands of miles away. And consider that while some cyber criminals are eventually apprehended, the vast majority (thought to be around 95%) are not.

What’s more, today organizations have to deal with new vectors of attack such as Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS), a disturbing trend in the realm of cybercrime. A criminal gang can offer its ransomware to anybody who wants to use it, with a share of any ransom paid being delivered to the creators of the malicious software. RaaS has essentially turned ransomware into a commodity, enabling even those with limited technical skills to launch devastating attacks. These “service providers” offer a range of features, including customizable ransomware variants, distribution methods, and even customer support, making it easier for aspiring cybercriminals to execute ransomware attacks without much effort. This model has contributed to the proliferation of ransomware attacks globally, posing significant challenges for cybersecurity professionals and organizations striving to defend against this evolving threat landscape.

Consequences of a ransomware attack

The consequences of an attack are often severe and long-lasting, and initially include the loss of access to critical files and data.

Beyond the immediate effects, ransomware attacks can also damage an organization’s reputation and erode customer trust. High-profile attacks can garner media attention, exposing vulnerabilities and undermining the public’s confidence in the affected entity’s ability to protect their data. Additionally, the cost of remediation and recovery efforts can be substantial, requiring significant investments in cybersecurity measures, legal assistance, and rebuilding compromised systems.

If ransomware manages to affect backups, the consequences become even more severe. Backups serve as a safety net for data recovery, but when targeted by ransomware, they can be compromised or rendered inaccessible. Without reliable backups, organizations may find themselves with no alternative but to pay the ransom, heightening financial costs and potentially emboldening attackers to conduct further attacks. The loss of backups also prolongs the recovery process, further exacerbating operational disruptions and the potential for data loss.

So how can you protect backups from ransomware?

6 tips to protect backups from ransomware

There are a number of steps that can be taken to protect backups from ransomware. Here are 6 of the most important:

1. Implement an Air-gapped Backup Strategy

With a solution such as immutable snapshots stored in air-gapped object storage – with such snapshots, by definition, not being able to be modified or deleted during the retention period – attackers will have no way of compromising your backups.

2. Employ the 3-2-1 Backup Rule

Follow the 3-2-1 backup rule, which involves having at least three copies of your data, stored on two different media types, with one copy stored offsite. This ensures redundancy and helps safeguard against ransomware attacks.

3. Regularly Test Backup Restorations

Perform regular tests to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of your backup system. This practice allows you to identify any potential issues or errors in the backup process, ensuring that your data can be successfully restored when needed.

4. Apply Access Controls

Implement strict access controls and permissions for backup systems and files. Limit user privileges to only those necessary for backup operations, reducing the likelihood of unauthorized access and tampering by ransomware.

5. Use Strong Authentication and Encryption

Employ strong authentication mechanisms, such as multi-factor authentication, to secure access to backup systems. Consider encrypting your backup files to add an extra layer of protection.

6. Educate and Train Employees

Ransomware often enters systems through social engineering tactics like phishing emails. Educate employees on recognizing suspicious emails, attachments, or links, and provide training on best practices for cybersecurity. By promoting a culture of security awareness, you can reduce the chances of a successful ransomware attack and protect your backups.

Can cloud backups protect against ransomware?

While cloud backups offer benefits such as offsite storage and ease of use, they are not foolproof against ransomware attacks. Organizations should combine cloud backups with other preventive measures, such as real-time monitoring and protection and robust security practices, to ensure comprehensive protection against ransomware threats. Regular testing, education, and security audits – essentially incorporating the six tips listed previously – are essential to ensure the integrity and effectiveness of cloud backup systems in the face of evolving ransomware threats.

How CTERA protects backups from ransomware

CTERA offers world-leading ransomware protection and mitigation, which crucially protects backups from ransomware. The CTERA solution contains five key elements:

Ransom Protect

The first step to protect backups from ransomware is preventing the ransomware from compromising your organization in the first place. CTERA’s Ransom Protect –natively integrated into the global filesystem – uses advanced AI including machine learning, proprietary algorithms, and activity sensors to identify and block attacks in real-time, before they can cause damage.

Continuous Protection

CTERA’s architecture ensures that the “golden copy” of your data on the cloud is protected with military-grade security, while the edge filers are just the cache that can easily be replaced or fixed if compromised. Data is synchronized to air-gapped immutable object storage, and RPO (recovery point objective) is measured in minutes and seconds instead of the days and weeks of traditional backup systems.

Instant Disaster Recovery

With CTERA’s caching technology, data is constantly replicated to the cloud, and dozens of terabytes can be rolled back easily. What’s more, you don’t have to wait for the full recovery to be completed – the edge filer is populated with stubs that allow users to immediately gain access to recovered files.

Immutable Snapshots

CTERA ensures that immutable snapshots are stored in air-gapped object storage, which is especially critical when it comes to protecting backups from ransomware.

Zero-Trust Architecture

As the only global filesystem to have zero-trust architecture, your systems are even more strongly protected; edge filers do not store or receive credentials for object storage, and single-use tokens provided by an authorization service in the CTERA Portal ensure a robust security-first approach.

Concrete steps to protect backups from ransomware

We looked at the problem of ransomware, and how it is increasing in intensity thanks to new schemes such as Ransomware-as-a-service (Raas) and new technological developments on the part of attackers.

The keys to surviving a ransomware attempt are to identify and block an attempted attack as quickly as possible, implement security best practices, and ensure that your backups are safe so that you can easily recover and restore data, and minimize the fallout from a ransomware attack.

CTERA’s ransomware mitigation and protection solution contains everything you need to protect against ransomware attacks: from initial identification and alerting, through to backup protection and seamless restoration.

To make your ransomware fears a thing of the past, especially when it comes to protecting backups, get in touch with a product expert today.


What are the common vulnerabilities in backup systems that make them susceptible to ransomware attacks?

Common vulnerabilities in backup systems that make them susceptible to ransomware attacks include weak authentication mechanisms, insufficient access controls, and lack of encryption. Additionally, inadequate backup monitoring and oversight, as well as failure to update backup software or firmware, can also leave backup systems vulnerable.

What is the RTO and RPO?

RTO (Recovery Time Objective) refers to the maximum acceptable downtime following a disruptive event, indicating the time within which systems and services should be restored. RPO (Recovery Point Objective) signifies the acceptable data loss in time, indicating the maximum amount of data that an organization can afford to lose in the event of a disruption. Both RTO and RPO are important metrics used in disaster recovery planning to set goals and ensure business continuity.

What is the most secure backup strategy?

The most secure backup strategy involves a combination of key elements: regular offline backups, offsite storage (such as cloud backups), strong access controls and encryption, proactive monitoring and testing of backup systems, and employee education on cybersecurity best practices. Implementing a comprehensive approach that includes multiple layers of protection ensures data integrity, resilience against ransomware attacks, and a higher level of overall security for backup systems.

Related Resources:

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