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The Importance of Email Archiving in Cybersecurity and Incident Response

Posted by Trevagh Stankard on Thu, Sep 23rd, 2021

Backups are an essential step in disaster recovery, but archives are critical for incident response and investigations into a data breach. Both are important, but the two are often used interchangeable and misunderstood. Although they both preserve data, they are used differently in disaster recovery and should be performed separately to stay compliant and ensure investigations into an incident can be done effectively.

Email Archiving versus Backups

Most business owners are aware of the importance of backups, but they often go overlooked until they are truly needed. Backups are a component in compliance, so a plan is necessary to avoid penalties and fines. The frequency backups are performed depend on the business, but they must be created often enough to avoid data loss should the environment suffer from unforeseen downtime.

Email backups can be used to return an email server to its original state so that users do not lose access to critical messages. Archives work a bit differently. A backup is a copy of email messages, but an archive moves data from one location to another. Where data will remain on the server after a backup, an archive moves older messages to a safe storage location and removes them from the server. It’s a way to free up storage on the email server or in the cloud and keep a copy of messages when they are needed.

What are Archives Used for in Data Privacy?

Archives are more than a simple data copy. They also contain metadata that can be used to organize records and search for specific messages during an investigation. It’s possible for a large enterprise organization to receive millions of messages a day, so an archive’s metadata lets storage systems index data for faster search results.

Compliance regulations require archives of messages, and it’s not uncommon for organizations to store archives for several years. They can take up large amounts of storage space, and they might seem unnecessary until they are needed after a compromise and data breach. Archives provide a method of investigation allowing legal teams and law enforcement to gain access to email messages from past communications.

Audit trails are also a component in compliance, so many of these audit logs combined with email messages can be used to determine a vulnerability, including if the breach came from an insider threat. Usually, third-party software is necessary to perform searches and manage archive backups. The metadata is used to tag messages with specific words and phrases so that messages will be returned from relevant search queries.

Email archives are used in other investigations. If the organization is audited or a part of an ongoing litigation, the archives might be subpoenaed for court proceedings. Organizations might be required to keep archived messages for a set amount of time, so before deleting any archive files, it’s important to check with compliant regulations to ensure that they can be permanently removed from the system.

Benefits of Email Archives

Using archiving software to create backups of your email messages has several benefits. They can be used in data loss prevention if backups fail or the backup files are corrupted. Archives are a copy of email data, so they can be used as failover during disaster recovery. Having good email archives can speed up recovery, so it can save the organization money by reducing downtime after a compromise.

Most organizations store email archives in the cloud, because they can take extensive amount of storage space, especially as the organization grows and receives hundreds of thousands of email messages every day. Cloud storage is more affordable than housing storage infrastructure on-premises.

The PST files used to store email messages locally can be unreliable and don’t handle metadata well. Archiving reduces the overhead of storing standard PST files, especially when they must be used as backups. Instead of restoring entire PST files, the archives can be searched based on metadata to find specific messages and reviewing them. It’s this advantage that makes archiving software solutions more convenient and effective for businesses.

Backups should not be completely replaced with archiving solutions, but these solutions will add a layer of security and data privacy to an organization that relies heavily on email messages for communications both internally and externally. Good solutions also organize archives and allow flexible tagging of indexed metadata, making searches faster when administrators must find specific messages based on various search queries such as date, sender, recipient, categories, departments, customer name, and business purpose.

ArcTitan Email archiving solution is Microsoft Office 365 integrated and is automated with lightning-fast email search speeds, easy to set up and cost-friendly deployments. Test try ArcTitan today, start 14-day free trial. 

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