Do you think Litigation Hold is a backup solution?

Many people believe that enabling Litigation Hold is a backup solution for their Exchange Online mailboxes. But it’s not true. Litigation Hold can never be an alternative to a backup solution.

Let’s look at what the term litigation hold (also known as a legal hold) means: It’s a business process to preserve information related to an ongoing or upcoming litigation. When an organization is in a litigation hold process, its employees can’t delete information related to the litigation. The information can be paper records or electronic records, including Microsoft Exchange Online emails. Microsoft has a litigation hold capability in Exchange Online to keep users’ email data for e-discovery during legal proceedings. Any user mailboxes can be placed on litigation hold in Exchange Online to prevent intentional or unintentional deletion of data from the mailboxes.

Some people incorrectly think that placing all the user mailboxes on litigation hold can replace the need for a backup solution. It is true that the Litigation Hold setting guards against some threats, such as deletion of data by end users. However, it is not a substitute for a full-fledged backup solution such as NetApp® SaaS Backup.

Here’s why litigation hold cannot be an alternative to a backup solution—and how NetApp SaaS Backup can provide true protection for your Exchange Online data:

No secondary copy - Litigation hold does not create a secondary copy of the data. A mailbox placed on litigation hold only protects the primary copy. SaaS Backup, on the other hand, maintains a secondary copy of your mailbox data in another cloud (AWS or Azure). The copy of the data is always available so that you can recover any data you lose.

Increased storage cost - Because the Litigation Hold setting prevents deletion of mailbox items, it increases the storage you need for mailboxes—and therefore your cost of storage. If you place all the mailboxes of an organization on hold, you use massive amounts of storage and increase storage costs exponentially over time. The SaaS Backup subscription includes unlimited storage and retention for your ever-increasing data.

Increased license costs - You keep paying licensing fees to Microsoft for maintaining the data in mailboxes under litigation hold. You end up paying for the licenses for former employees. With SaaS Backup, you can release the licenses of former employees and still retain those employees’ backup data for the required retention period.

Susceptible to ransomware - When ransomware hits a legally held mailbox, the infected emails cannot be deleted. The whole mailbox is under litigation hold, and there is no secondary copy of the mailbox to recover data from. With SaaS Backup, however, you can restore the mailbox to its state just before the ransomware attack and recover all its emails. To find out how ransomware can infect Microsoft 365 and how NetApp SaaS Backup can help recover data when ransomware strikes, read this blog post.

Massive data clutter - Litigation hold retains the entire content of a user’s mailbox, including spam and junk emails. Placing all the mailboxes of an organization under litigation hold creates a massive amount of data that clutters your e-discovery efforts and makes use of content search centers more difficult. SaaS Backup provides advanced search capability that helps you locate the exact data you need.

Potential legal issue - When an organization is subjected to an e-discovery request for legal proceedings, all data in held mailboxes is discoverable in legal proceedings instead of just the data related to the legal process. This fact could introduce unanticipated liability to the organization. With the SaaS Backup feature Export to PST, you can choose to export only the data requested for the legal proceedings

Insider threat - A rogue person with the right permissions in Microsoft 365 can turn off the Litigation Hold setting, making the emails susceptible to erasure. To learn how organizations lost data in Microsoft 365 due to insider threats - and how NetApp SaaS Backup could have recovered the data and saved those organizations from havoc- read this blog post.

Complex, inefficient restore process - The intention of placing a mailbox under litigation hold is not to be able to recover data, but to preserve the data in the mailbox. Using litigation hold as a recovery procedure is not feasible for any organization. The Litigation Hold feature does not provide a direct restore option. The only method to restore data from a mailbox under litigation hold is to go through a manual, cumbersome, and time-consuming process. The following is what you have to deal with to restore an email from a mailbox under litigation hold:

  1. You have to have roles and permissions assigned to you to manage a litigation hold, to perform an e-discovery search, and to import or export mail.
  2. You must create a search query based on keywords to find the missing email.
  3. After the search completes and you receive the emails matching the search query as a flat set of emails, you must download the set as a PST file.
  4. Then you must import the downloaded PST file in the Outlook client to view the flat set of emails.
  5. From that flat set of emails, you need to find the specific email you wanted to recover.
  6. When you find the specific email, you have to forward it to the correct Microsoft 365 mailbox.

That’s a lot to deal with. As you can see, restores from litigation hold have following shortcomings:

  • You can’t do granular restores - You have to do a content search, export the search results to PST, and then do a manual recovery from that exported data
  • The manual restore process does not preserve the folder structure - What is restored is just is a flat set of emails based on the search query you used.
  • Restoring the data to a second user or restoring data of multiple users is a nightmare.

With SaaS Backup, you can perform a granular restore at any level of hierarchy in Exchange Online with a single click of a button. At each level, you get an option to restore the data to its original location or to a different location or to export it as a PST file.

Other reasons the Litigation Hold feature is not a backup solution:

The feature is applicable only to Exchange Online - The Litigation Hold feature in Exchange Online applies only to Exchange. It doesn’t apply to Microsoft OneDrive, SharePoint, Groups, or Teams. To cover all sources of data, you need a complete backup solution like NetApp SaaS Backup.

The feature overrides retention policies - The Litigation Hold feature overrides the retention policies defined by your organization, which can go against the compliance policies of your organization. With the flexible retention policies that SaaS Backup provides, you can adhere to your company’s compliance policies.

A litigation hold is a business process - A litigation hold needs to be in line with the policies defined by your organization’s legal team, not by the IT team who places all mailboxes under litigation hold in Exchange Online. Before you use the Litigation Hold feature on your mailboxes, consult your legal team.

Do not rely on the Litigation Hold feature for your Exchange Online mailbox protection. Adopt NetApp SaaS Backup for complete protection of not only your Exchange Online mailboxes but your entire Microsoft 365 environment.                                                                                                                                                                 

Start a 30-day free trial of NetApp SaaS Backup. No credit card is required.

Technical Marketing Engineer