The problem of backup tapes

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Via CNN:
A spokeswoman for the online broker said it was told in February that a package holding four data cassettes containing current and former Ameritrade (Research) account holders' information from the years 2000 through 2003 was misplaced by a shipping company Ameritrade uses. It declined to name the company.

Three of the four tapes were recovered at the shippers' Maryland facility, said the spokeswoman, Donna Kush. The one tape that remains missing contains information on as many as 200,000 current and former customers, she said. Ameritrade has about 3.7 million customers.

Kush says Ameritrade has reviewed the customer information that would be on the missing back-up tape and has decided that only 175,000 of those customers needed to be notified, in accordance with industry standards. The company began sending letters to those customers last week.


She said Ameritrade has every reason to believe that the missing fourth tape has either been destroyed or is still somewhere in the shipper's facility. In addition, she said, the missing back-up tape contained compressed data that would require very advanced computer systems to access.

Yeah, I'm sure that's going to be a real barrier to the kind of people who reverse engineer obfuscated binaries.

This, folks, is why you need encrypted backup. It's not like you need to use some super-secret key that's easy to forget or lose (and it's exactly when you want to do a restore that you're going to discover you've forgotten the encryption key). Just stick it in a sealed envelope in the machine room with a "break seal in emergency". That way, when the backup tapes get lost, the people who find them don't get access to all your confidential data.

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There's probably no reason to use a public key. If you use a symmetric key system, like something built into the compression program, then the key will be used every time a backup is made. That should make it less likely to be unavailable when it's time for a restore, since it's being used every day.

The one problem would be if your main building burns down, you want to make sure the key is available off-site, without necessarily storing or transporting it with the backups. That takes a little more organization.

Unless, of course, the disk which explodes is the one which holds the backup key :)

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