Another look at availability
The goals of an information security program are to provide confidentiality, integrity and availability of an organization’s information. Of these three, availability is probably the most overlooked by information security professionals. That’s not terribly surprising. The people who worry the most about the availability of information are often not even part of a typical information security organization. They’re more likely found in the organization that manages storage or keeps the networks running. This type of specialization is necessary with today’s complex technology, but it’s probably a good idea for security people to at least have a rough idea of what technology is available to keep information highly available.
There were some interesting examples of this at this year’s IEEE Symposium on Massive Storage Systems and Technologies (MSST). This was held in the same location as the IEEE Key Management Summit and the IEEE Security in Storage Workshop last week, and provided a good opportunity for security specialists to see some of the recent developments in storage technology that make providing high availability of data possible. One interesting vendor at MSST 2008 was John Bordynuik, Inc., a company that specializes in recovering data from damaged or obsolete storage media.
The problems with reading damaged media should be fairly obvious. If your backup tapes get damaged to the point that they’re unreadable, that’s just as bad as not having backed up the data to begin with.
Another problem with storage media is that vendors often don’t support more than a few generations of legacy technology. And because three generations of technology can appear over a five-year period, this can leave you unable to read storage media that are not really that old.
Some businesses are reluctant to encrypt backup tapes due to concerns about being able to decrypt them in the future. After all, if you can’t get the right key needed to decrypt data, then encrypting your data is really nothing more than a cryptographic shredding process. You can avoid encrypting backup tapes if you really want to and still keep a reasonable level of security. You could do this by using addition physical security where the tapes are stored and using bonded couriers to transport them, for example.
On the other hand, the fact that you can’t prevent using some sort of storage device to store your data is obvious, and with this use of storage devices comes some inherent risks of losing data. And although this appears to be an unavoidable risk, there are also technologies available now that greatly reduce these risks. Even if you’re a security specialist who doesn’t deal with these issues on a regular basis, it’s probably good to know that this technology is available if you need it.