The Security Case for a Shift in Storage

From File Servers to Cloud Collaboration Platforms

While storage security is essential to any organization, it doesn’t always come easy. From maintenance of systems to controlling and monitoring data to implementing backup systems, the number of man hours and costs required to obtain a highly secure level of storage can be daunting. For organizations that want top-of-the-line options that are as efficient as they are secure, moving from file servers to cloud collaboration platforms may be their ticket. We’re here to show you why.

In this blog we discuss why file servers are difficult to manage and risky to data security compared to cloud storage platforms. Then, to illustrate just what we mean we’ll take a look at a recent ransomware outbreak, WannaCry, as an example of how each option works in the real world.

A Snapshot of the File Server Situation

Before the cloud, file servers were the number one option for organizations looking to store data because they allowed multiple users to access centrally-stored files via a network. Unfortunately, they come with many inherent flaws.

The first flaw is a lack of maintenance. Many business leaders assume maintenance is a given. They believe their storage infrastructure goes through regular refreshes in accordance with industry standards and that current security patches are applied. This is often not the case. Coupled with the fact that IT teams generally place a priority on implementing technologies to facilitate product development, sales and service, and you’re left with a dangerous situation. Core protocols and technologies which ensure or are congruent with file server functionality like SMB, SSL, POP3, Web, FTP, and Windows authentication are frequently not patched.

The second issue is decentralized server administration and storage sprawl, which makes controlling and monitoring of the storage difficult. IT teams lose control of their ability to apply up-to-date patches and version upgrades, especially when an organization does not have the resources to employ dedicated security personnel. This can cause personal or sensitive data to end up in a directory or file server that is unmonitored, leaving it vulnerable to attackers.

Third, backup systems are not only costly but are also challenging for organizations with file servers. Because in most organizations, large or small, backup systems often go untested until a critical disaster occurs. If backups don’t perform, data can be lost, stolen, compromised or simply inaccessible. Even for companies that do run full tests, it takes a lot of time and energy from their IT teams, such as coming in on the weekend when the office is closed so as not to disrupt the end users.

With file servers, the obligation to run maintenance, centralize monitoring and control, and install tested backups falls entirely on the organizations that own them, and specifically their IT teams. But there is hope. Cloud storage platforms take away many of these tedious tasks associated with storage, while bolstering security and bringing extra benefits to the business as a whole.

Gifts from the Cloud

As cloud platforms have emerged, such as Dropbox, Box and OneDrive for Business, they have ushered in a new age of storage. Revisiting the three main challenges of storage, it becomes clear, cloud platforms are a better, more secure option than file servers.

Looking at maintenance, the cloud helps alleviate many of the tasks formerly required to be done by your IT team. Not only do cloud storage providers run updates and install security patches for you, they do so at an almost constant rate, as they have dedicated security personnel that are constantly working to elevate security levels.

Cloud platforms also centralize storage as all of your files are now in one single location. This allows for a heightened level of control and monitoring with increased visibility into an organization’s storage, which can lead to more efficient threat detection and prevention. It also reduces time wasted searching for files by both IT teams and employees.

Possibly the best feature of moving to a cloud storage platform is the backup system. All major cloud providers have multi-tenant, multi-geo replication for your data. Not only will you have a tested and effective backup system in place, but it will greatly mitigate damage and reduce rollback time on files from weeks or months to mere minutes. As soon as an infected file is detected, the infected version of it can be rolled back to an earlier version can be performed. This accelerated security response reduces the risk of malware-infected files from spreading to other hosts and causing widespread damage.

With these capabilities in mind, we can examine how cloud storage platforms stack up to file servers in light of one of the most widespread and costly cyberattacks in recent history.

Why You Won’t WannaCry with a Cloud Storage Platform

WannaCry reared its ugly head in May of 2017 and left devastation in its wake to the tune of an estimated 4 billion dollars in damage by the end of the year. It targeted Mircosoft Windows operating systems, encrypting data and forcing organizations to pay ransoms in order to restore their data. One of the main reasons WannaCry was so effective is ecause, unlike other variants of ransomware, it did not require a user to download a malicious email attachment or visit a compromised website. Instead, its objective was to exploit security vulnerabilities in a version of SMB which resided on many Windows file servers. This allowed the attackers to gain remote access to their targets’ machines and directly execute the malware.

A startling 98% of victims were using Windows 7—an outdated operating system. This speaks to a lack of proper maintenance. As we noted earlier, regular file server maintenance can be overlooked when there is no dedicated security team. Even in instances where organizations were warned to patch their systems, many didn’t.

This was just the case for the National Health Service (NHS), in England. While its data and IT department, NHS Digital, issued critical alerts to NHS trusts throughout March and April to install patches, many did not comply. This led to a WannaCry infection in one-third of those trusts and thousands of operations and appointments being cancelled. With a cloud storage platform, the provider’s dedicated security team would have handled all patches and stopped the outbreak before it started.

With file servers, malware can take a longer time to be discovered because of the sprawl associated with decentralized storage, which leads to low visibility and a lack of control and monitoring. This was particularly dangerous with WannaCry as it had worm components that allowed it to spread from host to host. In the first four days of the outbreak alone, 200,000 computers were encrypted in 150 countries. With a cloud storage platform, the provider can identify infected files and stop them in their tracks, resulting in fewer files becoming infected and encrypted by attackers.

When files have become encrypted, organizations without backup systems are in serious trouble. Because rollbacks can take weeks, if not months on file servers, organizations are stuck between a rock and a hard place—pay the ransom or face significant downtime – and sometimes both. The French auto maker Renault was forced by WannaCry to shut down multiple factories across Europe as they dealt with this issue. If the company had been using a cloud storage platform, it could have relied on its provider to perform a rollback to the last intact versions. This would have prevented downtime and avoided the need to pay any ransom.

Conclusion

As you can see, the days of file servers as an organization’s primary mode of data storage may be coming to a close. As we mentioned, cloud storage platform developments such as Dropbox, Box and OneDrive for Business, create a centralized environment to store files with superior maintenance, control and monitoring, and backup capabilities. With these features built for today’s world, switching to a cloud storage platform in your next hardware refresh cycle is a no brainer.