Saturday, 26 August 2017 23:25

Acronis True Image 2018: AI-based ransomware protection has your back – and your back-up

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The newest version of Acronis True Image 2018 for Windows features major updates to its back-up and recovery capabilities, while impressively being first to incorporate “artificial intelligence-based technology designed to actively protect data against ransomware".

AI — and worthwhile back-up software — were once just concepts that would be available years or even decades into the future, or so it seemed during my youth in the 80s and 90s when PCs were new, primitive AI was software goo and back-up software seemed like file and folder glue.

Fast forward to near enough the third decade of the 21st century, and this are changing and becoming more powerful at an ever faster pace, with modern technologies joining forces to defeat the tech world’s most deadly scourge: ransomware.

The company at the forefront of these initiatives isn’t an anti-virus or anti-malware company, but a company that has taken a different and fresher approach – a data protection company with deep experience not just in the consumer world, but that of business and enterprise, too, covering the entire spectrum.

Seguei Beloussov, the multi-talented, multilingual, multi-company-founding chief executive of Acronis, said: “As the first company to offer full image backup for consumers, Acronis pioneered intelligent back-up for home use.

“Acronis True Image 2018 continues that tradition as the first and only personal back-up software that uses artificial intelligence to defend consumers against one of the fastest growing threats to their data.”

Acronis has managed to bring its anti-ransomware smarts not just to Windows users, but Mac users too, giving them the piece of mind that one bad apple can be protected from the crunch that ransomware roils and Acronis foils – see separate article.

So, what precisely has Acronis done with its new True Image 2018 to make it a must-have upgrade or — if you’ve never used Acronis before — a must-purchase piece of software for your computer?

Well, by combining its artificial intelligence (AI) based ransomware defence, called “Acronis Active Protection”, with a new generation of enhanced backup and recovery capabilities, such as “active disk cloning” and “automated WinPE boot media creation,” Acronis explains that its True Image 2018 represents a new standard of “intelligent back-up” for individuals, families and small businesses.

Let’s get some more detail on the features and benefits:

Active disk cloning: 
You can create an exact replica of your active Windows system without stopping and restarting using bootable media, making migration to a faster or larger disk even easier.

An updated media builder:
Automatically creates boot media for a WinPE environment, so you can quickly resolve driver configuration issues and recover your systems to the same or new hardware.

Continuous backup to the cloud:
You can update your backups as you work on files while securely storing an off-site version in the cloud.

Virtual drive conversion:
You can test the recoverability of the full image backups, or run your system in a Hyper-V virtual environment to test various applications without risking the primary system, and move complete system image as a virtual drive to another computer.

Faster incremental backups:
Up to three-times faster with new Changed-Block Tracker technology that tracks image changes in real time.

Automatic mobile backup to NAS devices:
More than a quarter of Acronis users have a network-attached storage (NAS) deviceat home. Now you don’t have to think about backing up a mobile device, since the process starts as soon as the mobile device connects to the same Wi-Fi as the NAS.

Acronis True Image 2018 also addresses the needs of the next generation of users by expanding its support for social media with automatic backups of Instagram accounts, including photos, comments and statistics, such as the number of likes, tags or comments a post gets.

What else is new and improved?

Easy control
True Image 2018 features a new visual interface, which Acronis says addresses the preferences of 83% of its customers who reported that they “want more information and insights into their backups.”

Back-up activity and statistics are now displayed graphically, allowing you to manage your back-ups at a glance – including how much data you have stored, the types of files in storage, and the status of back-ups.

Here's an example of the Back-up Statistics page: 

Secure data protection
Then there’s the ability to restore a system or individual files being absolutely critical following a ransomware attack.

Acronis True Image 2018 not only makes recovery automatic, but it also takes the initial protection a step further by preventing ransomware from corrupting a user’s data in the first place.

That is the kind of feature that sets Acronis apart, and allows it to go above and beyond in terms of delivering a solution that actually delivers on the promise of not only protecting against ransomware, but stopping its attack and, if necessary, restoring any files that were encrypted back to their original state.

So, you’re probably wondering — beyond magic  how does Acronis achieve these feats of technological fancy?

  • The company uses machine learning models in its Acronis Active Protection platform, which recognises unusual patterns of file access.
  • We’re told that these models are generated in Acronis’ dedicated Cloud AI infrastructure, which processes data from hundreds of thousands of malicious and legitimate processes to build those models.
  • Those models are incorporated directly into Acronis Active Protection, allowing Acronis True Image 2018 to protect a system’s data independently, without the need for an internet connection.
  • Acronis explains that when its Active Protection system “detects unusual activity, it checks the process using both heuristics analysis as well as those models of expected and unexpected behaviour.”
  • If the process is identified as potentially malicious, Acronis True Image 2018 alerts the user of the suspicious activity.
  • However, with real-time monitoring, Acronis Active Protection verifies all processes so approved activities are allowed to run, while potentially dangerous behaviour is detected and stopped.
  • Then, if any files are encrypted during a ransomware attack, Acronis True Image 2018 automatically restores those files from backup. 
  • Thus, while cyber criminals increasingly target backup files to keep users from restoring their system without paying the ransom, Acronis explains that its technology “specifically defends backup files as well as the original data.”
  • Ransomware damages are expected to top $5 billion this year, and can Acronis proudly boast that its “unique self-defence of backup files is Acronis True Image 2018’s way to ensure a user’s data remains untouched.”

And, with more than 60% of Acronis customers surveyed during July 2017 stating they worry about ransomware, a new “Security Dashboard” gives users complete visibility over Acronis Active Protection so you can be reassured that their data is protected. Acronis says that “it lets them track the number of processes that have been flagged as potentially dangerous, see which ones were blocked, and manage a whitelist of trusted applications".

Ok, so what is the price and availability?

There are three editions of Acronis True Image 2018 available to accommodate customer use and preferences. All versions include Acronis Active Protection against ransomware and cover an unlimited number of mobile devices.

  • Standard is a perpetual license that is offered without any cloud storage or access to cloud-based features for customers who prefer to store their data on local drives only. Pricing starts at AUD $69.99 for one computer.
  • Advanced is a one-year subscription that includes 250 GB of cloud storage and access to all cloud-based features. Pricing starts at AUD $69.99 per year for one computer.
  • Premium is a one-year subscription that includes exclusive blockchain-based data certification and electronic signature capabilities, as well as 1 TB of cloud storage. Pricing starts at AUD $139.99 per year for one computer.

Acronis says that Advanced and Premium subscribers can purchase additional cloud storage within the application,” with Advanced Licenses able to upgrade to a maximum of 500 GB. If more storage is needed, Advanced users can upgrade to a Premium Licence, which offers cloud storage of up to 5TB.

The Instagram backup feature within Acronis True Image 2018 has also launched “in limited markets” but fear not, it will be available worldwide on 4 September.

On sale via major software resellers and retail stores worldwide, Acronis also offers True Image 2018 from its website here.

Note: if you have more than five computers in your small business, Acronis offers “Acronis Backup 12.5,” which also provides the same ransomware protection technology but “scales to protect thousands of computers and provides convenient tools for group management of environments of any complexity,” with more detail here

Finally, Acronis are very serious about back-up and data protection. The company has been around since 2003, so it is no “Johnny come lately” on the scene.

It protects the data of more than five million consumers and 500,000 businesses in over 150 countries and 20 languages, and with the company having over 100 patents and continually improving its products and services, and adding news ones, it’s no surprise to see Acronis proudly boasting its products are “consistently named best product of the year and cover a range of features, including migration, cloning, and replication".

Here’s a video with some more detail on the latest Acronis True Image 2018 release:

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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