Immutable Backups

Today’s omnipresent digital landscape makes data a critical asset for businesses worldwide. And the increase in ever-evolving cyber threats means that traditional backup strategies may not provide an effective defence against these sophisticated attacks. The emergence of “immutable backups” has been pivotal in addressing this challenge, offering a robust solution to protect sensitive information from unauthorised changes or deletions.

“Immutable backups” are an innovative form of data protection that maintains the integrity and security of stored information. By creating unmodifiable snapshots of data at specific points in time, these backups prevent alteration or tampering once they are written to storage. This resistance to modification is a formidable barrier against various cyber-attacks such as ransomware—where adversaries typically encrypt files for extortion purposes—and accidental deletion by users with elevated privileges.

Adopting immutable backup solutions reflects an organisation’s commitment to rigorous cybersecurity practices. It ensures recoverability and operational continuity even when faced with disruptive events. Here, we explore how immutable backups function within modern IT infrastructures and why they are vital for securing business-critical datasets.

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What Are Immutable Backups?

Immutable backups are a data protection strategy that creates unchangeable backup copies—hence the term “immutable”. This type of backup creates an environment where, once the stored data is written, it cannot be overwritten, altered, or deleted for a specified period. The principle is to ensure that immutable data remains in its original state from the moment it’s captured until the end of its retention policy.

The concept hinges on maintaining what is known as the “Write Once Read Many (WORM)” model. When an immutable backup is created, it becomes impervious to modifications; not even users with administrative rights can alter it. This attribute makes immutable backups exceptionally valuable for compliance purposes. It is integral in safeguarding against ransomware attacks, as malicious actors cannot encrypt or destroy information preserved through immutability.

Incorporating immutable data into an organisation’s disaster recovery plan provides another layer of defence by preserving historical versions of untouched datasets. Should cyber threats or human error compromise any piece of current working data, stakeholders can rest assured they can revert to these snapshots without fear that they, too, were tampered with.

Using technology like Object Locks on storage systems like Amazon S3 and leveraging file system features designed for immutability ensures organisations maintain robust access control of critical assets while upholding stringent cybersecurity measures. By implementing immutable backups within their broader security architecture, organisations can create resilient barriers around their digital repositories.

How Immutable Backups Work

Immutable backups operate on a principle that restricts any form of data manipulation post-creation. This process starts with taking a snapshot of the existing data, which various mechanisms then preserve in an unchangeable state.

The initial step involves capturing the state of the data at a particular moment. This snapshot includes all files and configurations as they exist during that instant. Once this image is secured, it’s written to storage with specific policies enforcing its immutability, often by leveraging technology such as Object Lock or file system features built for maintaining immutable states.

Once these policies are applied, the backup enters an “immutable retention period”. During this time frame—which can range from days to years depending on regulatory requirements or business needs—the stored snapshots cannot be altered in any way. Even attempts by administrators or users with high-level privileges will be denied if they try to modify or delete these protected copies.

To further enhance security measures, many systems also incorporate multifactor authentication (MFA) before allowing access, even within allowed operations outside of modifying content. MFA ensures additional verification steps before enabling access to backed-up data. Additionally, modern immutable backup solutions frequently distribute their stored snapshots across multiple locations and media types (a practice known as redundancy) to prevent total loss due to physical disasters like fires or floods affecting one site.

This combination of write-once-read-many models, strict policy enforcement, MFA access protection, and strategic redundancy planning establishes the bedrock upon which immutable backups ensure critical data storage remains untouched and available precisely when needed most.

Importance of Immutable Data

Immutable data plays a pivotal role in cybersecurity and data management strategies. Here are some of the core advantages that highlight its importance:

  • Enhanced security against ransomware: Immutable backups cannot be encrypted or deleted by ransomware, making them reliable recovery points.
  • Regulatory compliance: Many industries are subject to stringent regulations regarding data retention. Immutable backups help ensure compliance with these legal requirements.
  • Protection from malicious activities: Even if insiders have high-level access, they can’t alter backup copies, preventing potential sabotage.
  • Data integrity assurance: Immutability maintains the accuracy and consistency of historical data over time without fear of unauthorised changes.
  • Operational continuity: In the event of a disaster or system failure, organisations can quickly restore operations using untampered backup copies.
  • Simplified recovery process: Having reliable, unaltered snapshots simplifies decision-making during restoration, as there’s confidence in the integrity of the backed-up versions.

These attributes underscore why incorporating immutable data into any comprehensive security strategy isn’t just beneficial—it’s becoming increasingly necessary for safeguarding valuable digital assets against today’s multifaceted cyber threats.

Mutable vs. Immutable Data

Mutable data refers to information that users can alter after its initial creation. This type of data is dynamic, allowing for updates, edits, and deletions as users or applications require.

Unlike mutable data, users can change immutable data once it’s been written. Once a piece of data is made immutable, it becomes a permanent record that provides an accurate snapshot of its state at the time of writing. Other key differences include:

  • Changeability: The most significant difference lies in changeability; mutable data can adapt to new inputs while immutable remains constant.
  • Security implications: With immutability comes enhanced security. Immutable backups protect against unauthorised alterations such as those caused by ransomware attacks, which rely on encrypting or modifying files.
  • Storage considerations: While immutable records ensure integrity over time, they often require more storage space since each change necessitates creating a new version rather than simply updating existing ones.

Despite immutable data offering greater data protection capabilities, both mutable and immutable data have pros and cons.


Pros of Mutable Data:

  • Flexibility allows for easy corrections and real-time updates.
  • More efficient use of storage resources since changes are made in place without duplicating content.


Cons of Mutable Data:

  • Susceptible to human error or malicious activity resulting in unintended modifications.
  • Can complicate compliance with regulations requiring unaltered historical records due to ongoing changes.


Pros of Immutable Data:

  • Offers strong protection against tampering, ensuring reliable recovery points for disaster recovery scenarios.
  • Simplifies regulatory compliance around retention policies given its unchangeable nature.


Cons of Immutable Data:

  • Increased demand on storage capacity because every edit creates a new copy instead of overwriting old versions, leading to potentially higher costs associated with maintaining larger volumes of backup snapshots.
  • Immutable storage can’t prevent physical damage to data caused by natural disasters or hands-on tampering with the media.


Organisations often need a balance between both types within their IT infrastructure, depending on factors like the criticality of protected assets, the potential threat landscape, and the regulatory environment.

Benefits of Immutable Data

Immutable data offers a host of benefits that enhance an organisation’s data management and security posture:

  • Robust defence against cyber threats: Provides a solid line of defence against malware, ransomware, and other cyber threats.
  • Assured recovery point: Guarantees the availability of clean data for incident recovery.
  • Reduced operational risks: Mitigates risks associated with accidental deletions or unauthorised changes to critical files.
  • Audit trail preservation: Maintains a clear record for audits by preserving historical data precisely as it was initially stored.

Organisations have realised substantial benefits from using immutable backups in their cybersecurity strategies. By implementing these unalterable records into their systems, they’ve been able to fortify defences against increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks. For instance, when faced with ransomware attacks that typically encrypt user files demanding payment, companies find solace in knowing they have untouched copies securely tucked away, negating the leverage such malicious actors hold over them.

Moreover, sectors like healthcare and finance, which are heavily regulated, benefit greatly from immutability due to stringent legal requirements for information retention and integrity. Not only do immutable backups help meet compliance mandates, but they also offer peace of mind by ensuring crucial historical medical or financial records remain intact even years later, a key factor during external audits or internal reviews.

By embracing immutable storage solutions, organisations not only shield themselves from adverse events but also streamline disaster recovery processes and regulatory adherence efforts. The result is more resilient operations while simplifying what could otherwise be complex logistical challenges related to data retention and management.

How Proofpoint Can Help

With immutability comes peace of mind. By creating unchangeable backup copies, organisations can rest assured they have reliable recovery points immune to encryption or deletion. The confidence gleaned from critical data remaining intact over time supports accurate decision-making based on reliable information, all while adhering to strict industry regulations.

Proofpoint stands at the forefront of cybersecurity solutions, offering robust tools designed to safeguard an organisation’s most important asset: its data. With expertise in preventing loss and ensuring compliance, Proofpoint provides comprehensive strategies and solutions that protect data against advanced cyber threats like ransomware.

These include Information Protection & Security solutions, which help organisations audit and discover data, create protection strategies, and safeguard data from external threats targeting cloud platforms. Proofpoint’s Information Protection solutions also address data loss prevention across various channels and investigate insider violations to secure sensitive data and meet compliance requirements.

Additionally, Proofpoint offers Email and Cloud Security, Insider Threat Management, Threat Response, and Security Awareness Training. All these solutions contribute to a comprehensive data protection strategy. To learn more, contact Proofpoint.

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