Why Back Up Cloud SaaS Data, and Why Now?Your data is critical to your business operations, and in many cases, maintaining control of and access to it is required by law. (Read more about how third-party security keeps companies in control of their data here.)
SaaS Shared Responsibility ModelSoftware-as-a-service providers have established documentation that clarifies the areas of responsibilities they have and also those responsibilities that are retained by the customer. Microsoft, well known for its Microsoft 365 SaaS offering, delineates the boundaries of shared responsibility in the cloud. While Microsoft does provide some degree of data protection, many people are not aware of the limitations of this protection. The short of it is that Microsoft does not provide suitable backup and restore functionality to customers. Learn more about why your M365 is not backed up (and how to fix it) in our in-depth article here.
Risks to Data SecurityIn the days of on-premises backup, the only credible risks were acts of mother nature and hardware failure. That is, of course, if you ignore software issues. Lots of software (from firmware on RAID adapters to drivers to operating system filesystem implementations and the user applications) problems would cause data loss and a need for restore, from system level down to file level. (That’s one thing I don’t miss about the ‘90s.) However, in the cloud-computing era, the risks have evolved as much as the ways in which we create, share, and store data, so things are much more complicated now. With both the prevalence and penetration of ransomware, cybercrime, and not to mention the increased access users have in order to streamline collaboration interactions and boost productivity, data—the lifeblood of a company—has, in many ways, never been more susceptible to data loss, regardless of whether it’s international (malicious actors, ransomware, etc.) or unintentional (human error, accidental deletion). Sometimes going back to basics can be the place to start in developing or hardening security.
3-2-1 Backup MethodThe 3-2-1 principle comes from the days of on-premises data storage. It is still commonly referenced today in the modern, cloud-computing area. Even though it isn’t directly applicable, word for word, to cloud data, this well-known and widely used principle can still be used today to guide security decision makers in their process of improving their security infrastructure against today’s data risks.
What Is the Origin of the 3-2-1 Rule?Backup and recovery solutions have existed since long before cloud computing. However, the methodologies have shifted due to the modernization of the infrastructures, behaviors, needs, and of course a lot more variables (but we won’t get into that here), which has resulted in some discrepancies between best-practice principles and their application to modern data infrastructures. This is also the case with the 3-2-1 backup rule, with the biggest change being the shift of how data is created and stored (or rather where). Formerly, production data was created on site and stored in on-premises hardware, alongside one backup copy, and the third being stored off premises and typically on tapes. ComputerWeekly has a feature on if the cloud has made 3-2-1 obsolete. In the cloud era, data is created in numerous places by remote workers in SaaS applications, where it is often transferred around the globe, and is stored “somewhere else” from a business’s physical office. More than likely, the extent of an answer to the question of “where is your data stored” is that it’s in the cloud. But is that backup? And what is true backup in the cloud?
How Does the Rule Apply to Cloud Backup?We often see iterations of this backup principle in fancy infographics that almost forget to translate the rules to apply to the current scenarios. However, with a few tweaks, there’s plenty of relevant guidance that can help lead to a successful, modern, data security system.
3 Copies of Your DataThe ‘3’ in the rule refers to the number of “copies of your data,” with one being the primary dataset in the production environment while the remaining two copies are backups. This is still applicable to modern data protection best practices.
2 Administrative DomainsAs mentioned, the ‘2’ can be understood as “two administrative domains” so that copies are managed independently from the other or are stored within separate logical environments. You often see this written as “two types of media,” which is a relic from the on-prem past when it was made up of disks and tapes. Now, it’s about having copies across multiple disks and across two administrative domains so that one data-loss event cannot possibly—or is extremely unlikely to—impact all copies of the data. This is known as a logical gap. Without it, should there be a cloud-wide compromise (such as a breach) or data loss event of the cloud where your primary data lives, your data would not be available to you. One of the best-known examples of this is the Danish shipping giant Maersk and the infamous NotPetya cyberattack, dubbed “the most devastating cyberattack in history” in the full Wired story here. When working “in” the cloud, the building you are in isn’t of any real consequence to the data. Rather, it’s the cloud you are working in and storing data in that matters. In many regards, this step could envelop the step below, “1 copy external,” but in respect to the principle, it serves us here to keep it a separate consideration. Should there be a cloud-wide compromise or data loss event of the cloud where your primary data lives, your data would still be available to you by following the rule. Without doing so, you’ve lost access to your data (or even lost your data permanently), with an impact that has a massive potential for business disruption and costs (as in the case of Maersk).
1 Copy ExternalFormerly the ‘1 off-site storage copy,’ this still applies for the same reasons as it did in the past: You don’t want to store all of your data in the same exact location, and whether all are aware or not, the cloud is located in physical data centers. From the on-premises days, this meant literally having a copy of disks and/or tapes in a different location from your business in case someone, something, or some event with the power to destroy the building did so. Let’s call this the “in case of fire” step. In cloud computing, this means having a backup copy outside the cloud of the production environment and outside the administrative domain of the other backup. Remember, the cloud is ‘just’ physical data centers, so by working in the cloud, the centers you are storing your data in are of real importance to the data. What if the data center of the cloud you are working in is also the same data center that your backup cloud data is stored in? Should there be a data loss event at that center, all of your data would be at risk from that event. That’s bad.
Use Case: What would this look like in real life?If, for example, you are working on a Microsoft Word document and you save it to OneDrive that has OneDrive Backup turned on, you’re totally protected, because it says “backup,” right? This is an example where the 3-2-1 principle still helps shed light on modern data protection in the cloud. By following the 3-2-1 rule above, one can deduct that this example isn’t backup (but neither is a lot of what SaaS providers offer as ‘backup’) because true backup requires a logical infrastructure separate from the primary data. As the “in case of fire” step requires, you must have one copy outside of the administrative domain. By working in and backing up OneDrive data to Microsoft’s cloud services, the data remains in the same administrative domain. What if something were to happen to Microsoft servers? You’d lose access to your primary data and the copies “backed up” since they all relied on the same cloud. What’s even worse is that since the backup is configured by “you” (i.e., the admin), a compromise of your account can unconfigure it, too. So, a simple case of ransomware could completely and automatically disable or work around such in-service protections—even leading to immediate backup data deletion. Keepit, on the other hand – aside from being separate (and therefore unlikely to be compromised at the same time by the same mechanism), as a dedicated backup solution – will actually protect even the administrator from quickly or immediately deleting backup data. In this respect, Keepit offers some of the most desirable features of “the tape in an off-site vault” in a modern cloud service solution.
Here’s how to use the 3-2-1 backup rule to ensure you’re covered: Independent cloudIf you’re interested in further reading, check out our e-Guide on SaaS data security for a thorough look into leading SaaS data security methodologies and how companies can raise the bar for their data protection in the cloud era. Convinced you need backup, but want to know more about data protection and management for your particular SaaS application, then explore how Keepit offers cloud data backup coverage for the main SaaS applications here.
About Version 2 Limited
Version 2 Limited is one of the most dynamic IT companies in Asia. The company develops and distributes IT products for Internet and IP-based networks, including communication systems, Internet software, security, network, and media products. Through an extensive network of channels, point of sales, resellers, and partnership companies, Version 2 Limited offers quality products and services which are highly acclaimed in the market. Its customers cover a wide spectrum which include Global 1000 enterprises, regional listed companies, public utilities, Government, a vast number of successful SMEs, and consumers in various Asian cities.
At Keepit, we believe in a digital future where all software is delivered as a service. Keepit’s mission is to protect data in the cloud Keepit is a software company specializing in Cloud-to-Cloud data backup and recovery. Deriving from +20 year experience in building best-in-class data protection and hosting services, Keepit is pioneering the way to secure and protect cloud data at scale.