I heard a rumor recently that Iron Mountain, a leading provider of offsite storage for backup data, was implementing a new policy that all customer data must be encrypted.
It makes sense. Unencrypted backup media seems to be an increasingly common source of data breaches. Chase Bank lost data on an unencrypted backup tape. Information Vaulting Services lost a backup tape from the state of Arkansas containing unencrypted personal information on over 800,000 individuals. A third-party storage vendor lost an unencrypted backup tape from Bank of New York Mellon with sensitive information from 4.5 million customers. The list goes on, and on, and on…..and on.
While the organization entrusted with the data–Chase Bank, the state of Arkansas, or Bank of New York Mellon in the cases cited above–ultimately must pay the price for the data breach, both in terms of the broken trust with customers and damaged reputation, as well as any fines, penalties, and the cost of notifying and protecting customers, the fact is that these losses also reflect poorly on the third-party organizations responsible for securely storing the backup media.
Organizations like Iron Mountain that provide offsite storage have no way of knowing what data is contained on the media it stores for its customers, nor whether or not that data is encrypted or protected in any way. A tape is a tape is a tape and they are all handled and treated the same. Granted, a company that exists to provide secure offsite storage for backup data should not lose its customer’s backup media, but it shouldn’t bear any additional responsibility for personal or sensitive information being compromised as a result.
It turns out that the rumor I heard was incorrect. I spoke with Iron Mountain and I was told that it does not require customers to encrypt backup data–although it does believe its a good idea and highly recommends that customers consider doing so.
Apparently, the rumor stems, at least in part, from laws enacted in Nevada and Massachusetts. Those state laws require that personal information that could lead to identity theft be protected–even on backup media. Iron Mountain may not require it, but Nevada and Massachusetts do require that organizations in those states, or that conduct business in those states and/or result in personal information from citizens of those states being retained, encrypt information on backup media.