InsightsThe Growing Threat of Ransomware to Backups

Ransomware attacks constantly threaten businesses, and backups, often considered the last line of defense, are no longer guaranteed to be safe.

Sophisticated ransomware strains can now target and compromise backups, rendering them useless in data recovery efforts. This article explores why backups are vulnerable and how businesses can implement strategies to protect them.

Why Backups Are at Risk?

Several factors contribute to the vulnerability of backups to ransomware attacks:

  • Insecure Backup Practices: Businesses sometimes store backups on the same network as their primary data. This lack of segmentation allows ransomware to easily locate and encrypt backups along with the original data once it infiltrates the system.
  • Online Backup Systems: While convenient, online backup systems constantly connected to the main network are vulnerable. Ransomware can spread through the network and infect these backups if not isolated or adequately protected.
  • Insufficient Offline Backups: Backups not stored offline (air-gapped) or immutable (unchangeable after being written) are highly susceptible to ransomware attacks. Hackers specifically target such backups for encryption or deletion, leaving businesses with no viable recovery options.
  • Untested Backups: Even if backups seem secure, failing to test them for integrity and functionality regularly can create a false sense of security. Untested backups might be corrupted or unusable when needed during a recovery situation.
  • Evolving Ransomware: New ransomware strains are specifically designed to target backup files and software. These strains can delete or encrypt backup snapshots and exploit vulnerabilities to target cloud-based backups.
  • Social Engineering Attacks: Human error or social engineering tactics can lead to ransomware infection of backups. Phishing attacks or compromised employee credentials can provide attackers access to backup systems, allowing them to deploy ransomware.

Protecting Backups from Ransomware

Several strategies can be implemented to safeguard backups from ransomware attacks:

  • Air-Gap Backups: Creating an isolated environment with controlled access, known as air-gapping, prevents ransomware from reaching backups even if it infects the primary system. This physical separation, often achieved with removable storage devices like tapes, ensures offline backups remain inaccessible to online threats.
  • 3-2-1 Backup Rule: This data backup and recovery strategy emphasizes redundancy and physical separation. It recommends maintaining three copies of your data: one primary copy and two backups. These backups should be stored on two different media, with at least one copy kept off-site in a physically separate location or a secure cloud storage solution.
  • Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP): A well-designed DRP acts as a roadmap for responding to disruptions caused by ransomware attacks or other unforeseen events. It outlines risk assessments, analyzes potential business impacts, and defines recovery strategies. The plan should specify which data needs to be backed up, how often backups should occur, and the methods for accessing the backups during recovery.
  • Limiting Access to Backups: Access to backup data should be strictly controlled due to their critical nature. Implementing the principle of least privilege ensures that individuals only have access to the data necessary for their job functions. This approach minimizes the risk of internal threats, accidental data loss, or unauthorized backup modifications.
  • Collaboration Between Teams: Data protection and security teams must work together to build a layered approach to cyber resilience. Effective communication breaks down silos and allows teams to work collaboratively to combat and prevent ransomware threats. Collaboration is crucial for selecting appropriate tools, creating a comprehensive strategy, and implementing policies that address prevention, detection, and recovery from ransomware attacks.
  • Employee Education: Proper data backup procedures must be taught to employees. This includes training on using physical storage devices or cloud-based solutions to back up data on individual workstations, company email systems, and broader infrastructure.


Protecting backups from ransomware requires a proactive and multifaceted approach. Businesses must prioritize air-gapped backups, adhere to the 3-2-1 backup rule, design a comprehensive DRP, limit access to backup data, and foster collaboration between data protection and security teams. Regular testing, updating, and securing backup environments are crucial for maintaining data integrity and ensuring business continuity in the face of ever-evolving ransomware threats.

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