WOOF! Newsletter

February 09, 2017

How to Defend Against Ransomware—With Versioning

Defense against ransomware involves more than backing up data. Versioning of backups is the practice that can make your data ransom-proof.

In last month’s newsletter, we discussed several methods to improve backup reliability.

One reliability method we didn’t mention was versioning.

Why not?  Because versioning is a topic all on its own.  In today’s WOOF! article, you’ll find out what versioning is, how it improves backup systems, and how it defends against the scourge of ransomware.

What is Versioning?

When it comes to backups, think of versioning as taking “snapshots” of your computer or server.  Each “snapshot” is stored as a version within your backups.

Wikipedia defines backup file versioning as, “Any computer file system which allows a computer file to exist in several versions at the same time.”  Versioning’s default is to create one version – one copy – per backup interval.  Intervals can be by time, or file activity.

Let’s say you want to back up the hard drive on one computer, every day, for 30 days.  If you use a backup service that provides versioning, you’d have 30 versions of that one hard drive’s backup.

Versioning serves as a redundancy measure.  Backups evolve from “yesterday’s copy of the hard drive” to “5 backup versions from last week.”  If the latest one is corrupt, you can go back to the previous version.

What Backup Systems Use Versioning?

Most major cloud backup providers include versioning.  We’ve worked with all of the following, and they all use versioning to protect files:

LifeWire.com compiled a list of their favorite 24 cloud backup systems, many of which include versioning.  (Note:  Their list does include consumer as well as business-grade backup systems. We do not recommend using consumer-grade cloud backup in a business environment—even if it does have versioning!)

Does your backup system use versioning?  If it doesn’t, you’re missing a feature that can literally save your data if ransomware attacks.

How Versioning Defends against Ransomware

Ransomware locks up your entire computer.  Encrypts the drive, and blackmails you to for the retrieval of your data.

But you have an extra problem too:  If your backups run automatically, they could run on the computer while it’s ransomware-infected.  Without versioning, this means your last backup is a ransomware-riddled, useless chunk of data.

Worse still, some ransomware can even go after those backups!  According to an article by Maria Korolov at CSO:

"Several ransomware families destroy all Shadow Copy and restore point data on Windows systems," said Noah Dunker, director of security labs at RiskAnalytics. "Many ransomware families target all attached drives, and happen to encrypt the backups as well, though not likely by design."

What’s the solution?  Versioning!  Keeping multiple versions of a backup means you have at least one backup that isn’t locked by ransomware.

For versioning to overcome ransomware though, you must take one additional step.  Set up your backups offsite/in the cloud, and make sure they’re not accessible from the computers you’re backing up. 

Why?  It prevents ransomware from tracking them down.  According to security consultant William Hugh Murray, "If the file system can access the offsite or cloud-based backup, so too can ransomware.”

Using a versioned backup, you can restore your data to the moment before the ransomware hit.   Hackers are tricky, but they can’t travel back in time.

Check Your Backup System for Versioning

In May of 2016, Carbonite posted a blog about Cloud Storage and Ransomware.  It correctly pointed out that cloud storage will not protect against ransomware…but cloud backup, with versioning, can.  (Carbonite does incorporate file versioning.)

When it comes to battling ransomware, backup versioning is a lifesaver.  You don’t have to pay any ransom, and you CAN get your data back…if you have versioning on your backups.  Selecting a backup vendor who also encrypts the backup data further adds to the security of your data.

Let’s make it a “Rule of Paw”:  If you’re going to pay for a cloud backup, make sure it has versioning.

Have an IT question you’d like us to tackle in 2017?  Email us at woof@planetmagpie.com and we’ll put it on the WOOF! topics list.